International mental health experts from the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO) and International Medical Corps, a leading global humanitarian organization, will call for greater attention toward mental health services for people affected by disaster and conflict at a Capitol Hill briefing Thursday morning in the Rayburn House Office Building.
In an effort to promote the integration of mental health services in low-resource communities affected by humanitarian emergencies Dr. Inka Weissbecker, International Medical Corps’ Global Mental Health and Psychosocial Advisor, will be part of a panel discussion entitled: Mental Health in Emergencies: Filling the Gap in Global Humanitarian Response. Dr. Weissbecker will be joined by Dr. Shekhar Saxena, the Director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse at the World Health Organization; Dr. Priya Shete, Public Health Advisor for the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance at the US Agency for International Development; and Bryan Schaaf, Policy Analyst for the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration at the US Department of State.
The stress and trauma of conflict and natural disaster can lead to psychological distress and mental health problems, which impairs the ability of people to maintain their daily tasks, livelihoods and physical health, resulting in serious obstacles to community recovery. In crisis settings, rates of common mental disorders can double, according to the WHO. Yet mental health needs are often ignored during and after acute emergencies. Providing psychosocial support and building sustainable mental health services in underserved communities is critical to returning populations to self-reliance.
“Despite the urgent need there is currently a lack of accessible basic mental health services following emergencies,” says Dr. Weissbecker. “It is imperative that the full range of government and private NGO disaster responses – including health, food/nutrition, clean water and sanitation, shelter and protection – also include mental health services and psychosocial support.”
International Medical Corps integrates and prioritizes mental health services and psychosocial support during emergency response. For more than 25 years, the organization has provided critical medical care and training to devastated populations in more than 65 countries worldwide.
A significant number of International Medical Corps’ responses have included the provision of mental health services and support, including training of local health staff to integrate support services into the primary health care sphere. International Medical Corps, with more than 4,000 field-based staff, including some 200 physicians and public health experts, in over 30 countries worldwide, is one of the few international emergency response organizations with the capacity to address both the immediate psychosocial needs of communities struck by disaster and to help those with pre-existing mental health disorders. The organization also integrates psychosocial support into the emergency response by providing training in psychological first aid to relief workers and setting up safe spaces for children and families for example.