Cover story

New Guidelines Announced on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergency Settings

The new guidelines include humanitarian agencies and other social support systems along with mental health workers as active participants in promoting mental health. Treating survivors with dignity and enabling them to participate in and organize emergency support is one of the main objectives, as well as supporting local contributions to mental health and psychosocial support.

This fall, the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) announced the publication of new guidelines on mental health and psychosocial support in emergency settings. These guidelines are the result of a large scale effort by an IASC task force coordinated by Mark van Ommeren at the World Health Organization (WHO) and Michael Wessells at Inter-Action (a consortium that includes humanitarian assistance agencies and NGOs). The IASC consists of international organizations such as those in the United Nations family, the Red Cross, the World Bank and WHO. The guidelines focus on using local community resources, social networks and social support for dealing with large scale disasters.
 
According to IASC’s press release, the guidelines include humanitarian agencies and other social support  systems along with mental health workers as active participants in promoting mental health. Treating survivors with dignity and enabling them to participate in and organize emergency support is one of the main objectives, as well as supporting local contributions to mental health and psychosocial support.  
 
APA was among the many groups who offered extensive peer review and comment on the draft guidelines. Members of the Committee on International Relations (CIRP), APA's Disaster Response Network, and many of APA's Divisions offered comment on the guidelines, which are organized to provide consensus on good practice by addressing the minimal actions that must be taken in emergency situations. The report is organized with an introduction, an overview matrix, and over 25 working sheets on specific areas (mental health, assessment, children, sanitation, education and so on).
 
APA has included the guidelines on its International Resources page (see http://www.apa.org/international/resources.html). The first such guidelines, they will form an important part of the resources available to APA's disaster response team. According to Margie Schroeder, Director of APA's Disaster Response Network (DRN), "The  IASC guidelines have become part of the core resources APA’s Disaster Response Network provides to its members about disaster relief work.” Dr. Gerard  (Jerry) Jacobs, APA's consultant on disaster relief efforts after the 2005 tsunami and an expert in disaster mental health, added, "Any psychologist hoping to provide psychological support in emergency situations, either domestically or internationally, needs to be familiar with the IASC guidelines.” Ψ

For the full IASC press release and other links, please visit the IASC website at: http://www.humanitarianinfo.org/iasc/content/subsidi/tf_mhps/default.asp?bodyID=5&publish=0.