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Help get MHPSS Voices From the Field Heard at the WHS 2016!
May 21, 2016
IASC Reference Group on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergency Settings

Help Bring MHPSS “Voices from the Field” to the World Humanitarian Summit, 23-25 May 2016



The World Humanitarian Summit  will take place in Istanbul, from 23-24 May 2016. It is a global call to action by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, which aims to set a new agenda for global humanitarian action.


At the Summit, Heads of State and Government, community leaders, businesses, and humanitarian organizations will announce major commitments  to action, launch new partnerships aimed at saving lives, and highlight innovations which help reduce suffering and uphold humanity in times of crisis. The issues discussed at the World Humanitarian Summit will likely set the agenda for reforms and developments in global humanitarian action for the years to come.


Unfortunately, the programme at the World Humanitarian Summit does NOT highlight the mental health and psychosocial support needs of people affected crisis around the world. MHPSS is not on the agenda at the High-Level Leaders’ Round Tables or at the Special Sessions that form the core of the Summit. It is also not featured at any of the 100+ approved Side-Events. Only a handful of MHPSS practitioners will be able to attend the summit, but they will not have a formal platform to raise issues of concern in the field.


Therefore, to increase the profile of MHPSS as a key humanitarian field and to raise issues of concern to this area of work, we need your help in an urgent campaign to share the important role that MHPSS services have in supporting vulnerable people and highlighting the specific issues that practioners struggle with in the field. This campaign is being carried out in collaboration with members of the IASC Reference Group on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergency Settings.


We would like to ask you to use social media (Twitter and Facebook) to raise “voices fromthe field” to be heard at the World Humanitarian Summit.  Please post responses to the 4 questions below on Twitter (with the hashtags #MHPSS and #WHSummit ) or on Facebook (Post as a comment to the WHS-related post at the top of the MHPSS.net group on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/MHPSSN). If you don’t use either Twitter or Facebook, you can still contribute by answering the 4 questions on this very short online survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/MHPSSatWHS


1) What is the most rewarding thing about your work (as someone working on MHPSS)?

2) What is the biggest challenge you face in your work (as someone working on MHPSS)?

3) Tell us a very short story from your own experience about how an MHPSS service really made a difference in the life of a vulnerable person.

4) What message do you have for the world leaders and humanitarians attending the World Humanitarian Summit? [What do you want them to do that would make a difference to the lives of the people you assist?]

ALSO do share your First Name, Your Job Is, Your Location, or maybe a Photo of Yourself (At Work) so that delegates will know where your responses are coming from.

Spread the campaign on social media

Search for the hashtag #MHPSS and #WHSummit on Twitter and get involved in the conversation. You can comment on other users tweets and you can create your own.

Tweet humanitarian agencies, relevant government institutions or attending heads of state on Twitter and send them a message:

Example: #MHPSS is a key part of crisis response @UNReliefChief! #WHSummit must promote integration of MHPSS actions across all humanitarian sectors!

Remember that including a photo of yourself (at work) may make the tweet more interesting and likely to be shared. Also include links to useful articles, blog posts, reports or videos that may help to illustrate or provide support for your message.

You can also:

  • Share a picture of yourself (at work) on Facebook with a message and the hashtags.
  • Tag your colleagues and ask them what they want
  • Tag public figures and organizations and ask what change they are working for
What More Can I Do?
Reach out to even more people

Help others get involved: We are not all on social media and some colleagues are not well connected to the Internet either. You can help their voices to be heard. There are many ways of doing this. Ask a colleague to write down his or her answers to the question. Take a picture of her or him at work (with explicit permission) post this online. Make sure you use the hashtags in the post so it will be included in the campaign.

Engage your partners and network 

Pass on this note on to colleagues in the field, and also to any colleagues who work in the communications departments of organisations that provide MHPSS services in emergencies.

Stay updated and use our posts to make your own

Follow the campaign on Facebook (facebook.com/MHPSSN) and Twitter (@mhpss) to stay updated with posts and results from the campaign. You can use our posts to create your own updates or you can simply share them, with or without a comment. Make sure you use the hashtags.

Do please join this campaign to ensure that MHPSS gets onto the WHS agenda and is an integral part of reforms and development of global humanitarian systems in the future!

New Group Open : Sri Lanka 2016 Floods
Sri Lanka 2016 Floods


Heavy rainfall is triggering floods and landslides and currently affecting over 400,000 people in Sri Lanka. A new group “Sri Lanka 2016 Floods” has been opened up on mhpss.net in order to share resources dealing with this crisis.

Please click here to join.

Three Key Actions for Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in the Aftermath of May 2016 Floods, Sri Lanka
3 Key Actions Pic
Three Key Actions for Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in the Aftermath of May 2016 Floods, Sri Lanka

- by Ananda Galapatti

 This short document is a quick update to brief notes that I developed with Dr. T. Gadambanathan (Consultant Psychiatrist, Batticaloa Teaching Hospital) a few years ago in response to queries we received on how to respond to the mental health and psychosocial impacts on affected people when serious flooding in 2011 inundated large portions of the Batticaloa district.

As I write on the evening of May 18th, it is already clear that thousands of families have been badly affected by the past few days of flooding, and that many people are still left stranded in areas inundated by water. It also seems that the death toll is likely to rise above 100, as rescuers continue to search for people missing in areas affected by landslides. It is not yet clear what the severity or extent of psychological and social impacts of this current flood disaster will be, or how these will be distributed amongst the affected population. However, this does not mean that we cannot not begin to provide appropriate support.

Even whilst the urgent rescues continue and affected people are being provided with initial temporary shelter and relief, there are simple but important things that we can do to reduce distress and try to protect vulnerable people from longer-term negative psychological and mental health consequences. Later, when individuals and families return to their communities and homes from temporary shelters, and the relief effort transitions towards meeting the needs of restoring homes, resuscitating livelihoods and repairing infrastructure, there will be other ways in which we can promote recovery and wellbeing and also ensure that people in need of specialised services are able to access these.

The options for support outlined below are derived from the IASC Guidelines on MHPSS in Emergencies, which is the global standard for organising MHPSS responses to large scale crises. Drawing on these guidelines as well as experience in similar disasters in Sri Lanka, I would like to suggest an approach to assisting positive coping and recovery that is built around three key actions:

1. Providing practical, humane support during rescue and relief activities based on the principles of Psychological First Aid.

When people are in the midst of the chaos and danger of a disaster, as well as for hours, days, or even weeks afterwards, they may be distressed and in need of support. The approach of Psychological First Aid is designed to meet this need through practical, humane, adaptable actions that any non-specialist person can do to support people who are distressed or vulnerable after a crisis, to promote 1) a sense of safety, 2) calming, 3) a sense of self- and community efficacy, 4) connectedness, and 5) hope. Provision of PFA does not depend on the arrival of counsellors or other mental health professionals, but can be provided by neighbours, relief workers or any other person who is at a crisis site. It is now a key recommended first line response in the immediate aftermath of a crisis, and the 2011 WHO manual on PFA has already been adapted and translated into Sinhala(2013) and Tamil (2013).

a) Provide rapid orientation (2–4 hours) on PFA for first responders, especially those associated with the Disaster Management Centres at district-level (including volunteers, community health staff, police and armed forces personnel mobilized for the disaster). There are a number of PFA trainers in Sri Lanka and there is also a useful guide to facilitating PFA training.

b) Promote public messages based on PFA principles via radio, television and internet so that members of affected communities, as well as other lay persons responding to the crisis, so that they will be able to drawn on these when they are providing assistance to friends, family, neighbours and others.

Courtesy: WHO (2011) Psychological first aid: Guide for field workers

2. Ensuring that mainstream relief and recovery programmes integrate special considerations into design and implementation so that these can promote and protect mental health and psychosocial wellbeing, whilst serving other needs.

The way that support is provided to meet the material and practical needs of individuals, families and communities affected by the floods can have positive or negative implications for their levels of distress and difficulty — both at individual and group levels. Eruptions of commotion or even anger around relief distribution often illustrates dramatically some of these impacts. Sensitive approaches can go a long way to addressing material needs that are causing worry to affected people, as well as avoid creating new problems.

a) Ensure access to and clarity of information about relief, possible compensation, available services and recovery processes. Ensure predictability, reliability and transparency in relation to these, as this will allow people to develop a feeling that they know what is going on — reducing distress, and allowing them to gain confidence in their own ability to understand and manage the situation.

b) Do No Harm — prevent relief and other forms of assistance from causing conflict, competition or disruption within affected communities; avoid creating unrealistic expectations; prevent creating long term dependencies.

c) Involve affected communities in prioritisation, planning and implementation of recovery programmes. Ensure that relief provision is based on up-to-date needs assessment, and responds to community or family priorities. Actively coordinate with others providing assistance to the same community. Reinforce the sense of control and competence of people in the community and within families, rather than helplessness.

d) In time, support the resumption of normal community structures and activities (ie. schools, religious practices, village committees, etc), and ensure minimal disruption of these by external programmes.

3. Linking people in need of more specialized or specific assistance with existing MHPSS services in their own district.

Whilst most people will not require specialised or targeted MHPSS interventions, there may be a few whose pre-existing vulnerabilities may have been worsened by what has happened to them during and after the flood. Being sensitive to the existence of people who may be in need of special assistance, and connecting them to existing services is a valuable action that can be taken by non-MHPSS service providers and volunteers. There may be some people who are so distressed or unwell that they are unable to take care of themselves or are a risk to themselves or others — in such cases, it is necessary to help them to access professional help.

a) Pay attention to pre-flood vulnerabilities (serious mental illness, disability, extreme poverty, complex family or social problems) that may prevent some individuals and families from making a successful recovery without additional assistance after the floods. Identify support needs and create sustainable responses to these problems, many of which may persist in the medium to long term.

b) Identify local resources for mental health and psychosocial support to whom difficult cases or complicated issues may be referred, or from whom assistance may be sought in responding to very vulnerable individuals or groups. There are now many relevant public sector service providers to whom persons in distress or difficulty may be referred. There are Medical Officers for Mental Health (MOMH) attached to MOH area and District level health service who are a good point of contact for support. Similarly, Counselling Officers can be accessed at many Divisional Secretariat and most District Secretariats. There are also a wide range of other personnel at DS Division and District level who have roles relevant to psychosocial support or mental health.

Courtesy TAF (in press): Mapping the Roles of Community-Level Government Service Providers Relevant to Mental Health & Psychosocial Support Services in Sri Lanka

In remote areas where these services do not yet exist or are not of adequate quality, the opportunity should be used to extend available services to meet MHPSS needs for the medium and long-term.

c) Specialised or targeted MHPSS interventions at a community-level should be based on systematic needs assessments, and should seek to integrate with the existing systems for care.

Useful Sources for Further Information:

Ananda Galappatti is a medical anthropologist and MHPSS practitioner. He is the Director of Strategy at The Good Practice Group, a Managing Board Member of MHPSS.net and also a member of the editorial board of the journal Intervention.

MHPSS.net 2016: Usage Analytics, User Voices & Evaluation Findings