Research: Mental Health & Psychosocial Support

Contributing to the global mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) evidence base in humanitarian settings is a priority for International Medical Corps. Our research findings inform recommendations to various stakeholders, such as ministry of health representatives and other MHPSS actors, on how to build sustainable local capacities and integrate mental health and psychosocial support into primary healthcare to expand access to quality, evidence-based mental health care services during emergencies.

For example, our research as part of the STRENGTHS Consortium with University of New South Wales contributed to findings on an adapted intervention for Syrian refugees in Jordan, and were disseminated at national, regional, and global levels. Our case study on International Medical Corps’ remote MHPSS programming in CAR, Iraq, Libya, South Sudan and Venezuela during the COVID-19 pandemic generated new global knowledge on how to adapt or develop remote MHPSS services in low- and middle-income countries, as well as improve the quality and quantity of remote MHPSS capacity building and service delivery.

Key Highlights
Our research studies have been featured in: Cambridge University Press Epidemiology and Psychiatric Sciences, PLOS Medicine, BMJ Open, European Journal of Psychotraumatology, BMC Public Health
Our research partners include: University of New South Wales, Vrije Universiteit and other partners of the STRENGTHS Consortium

MHPSS Research: Areas of Focus

Brief, Evidence-Based, Scalable Psychological Interventions

War, conflict and crisis affect populations and mental health care systems in multiple ways. Major barriers in humanitarian settings include a lack of mental health specialists and service delivery points; most psychological interventions being disorder-specific and not transdiagnostic; and lengthy interventions that are costly to provide and do not meet the needs of those in distress. In response to these challenges, a range of task-shifting approaches has been developed in which non-specialists are trained and supervised to deliver psychological interventions.

The World Health Organization developed a brief, evidence-based, scalable psychological intervention—Problem Management Plus (PM+)—that includes five sessions and adopts a transdiagnostic approach to reduce common mental disorders by teaching skills in problem-solving, stress management, behavioral activation and social support access. PM+ has been shown to be effective in large trials in both individual and group formats in communities affected by adversity. To address the significant mental health needs of adversity-affected populations, and to test a robustly culturally and contextually adapted approach, we conducted a randomized controlled trial (RCT) of group PM+ with adult Syrian refugees in the Azraq refugee camp in Jordan and compared this program to enhanced usual care. This was one of five RCTs conducted with Syrian refugees in diverse settings, as part of the STRENGTHS consortium. The research helped advocate for a feasible, cost-effective scaling up of the intervention to better meet the MHPSS needs of this population.

STRENGTHS: Scaling up psychological interventions with Syrian Refugees >

Remote MHPSS Programming in Humanitarian Settings

There has been a longstanding critical gap at the global level regarding comprehensive guidelines and practical recommendations for the delivery and supervision of MHPSS services in geographically remote or inaccessible settings. Often, humanitarian settings present significant security risks, are difficult to travel to or from, and have limited to non-existent mobile, landline or internet connections. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the additional challenge of ensuring in-person MHPSS during quarantines and other infection control measures.

To address global knowledge gaps related to remote MHPSS programming, International Medical Corps developed a case study to synthesize our global experience and lessons learned from setting up new programs remotely and from transitioning to remote MHPSS programming in CAR, Iraq, Libya, South Sudan and Venezuela during the COVID-19 pandemic. The multi-country case study findings helped International Medical Corps revise and expand our Guidelines for Remote MHPSS Programming as well as an accompanying training package, contributing to increased and improved remote MHPSS uptake globally in humanitarian settings both for International Medical Corps and for external organizations.

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