Report: United Nations High Commission for Refugees Mental Health and Psychosocial Support for Persons of Concern

United Nations High Commission for Refugees
Publication date: 
1 June 2013


It has been widely documented that the legal, social and financial impacts of being a refugee can be complex and deleterious. It is now coming to the fore that much the same can be said for the psychological impact of being a refugee or internally displaced person. This evaluation reports on how well UNHCR considers and provides for the well-being and mental health of the Persons of Concern to this agency. A perspective on the Mental Health and Psycho-Social Support (MHPSS) to Persons of Concern offers a new way to look at humanitarian assistance. It calls into question the appropriateness, sensitivity, and empathy of humanitarian interventions and demands that humanitarian agencies support avenues for displaced people to address and heal their own trauma. These demands pose a significant challenge for humanitarian organizations since many of the countries we work in do not have well developed mental health infrastructures and therapeutic solutions need to be resourced or developed within the displaced community. In some cases, addressing mental health also requires a technical expertise that has not always been present in the usual roster of humanitarian responders. Yet despite these challenges, the field based staff surveyed for this evaluation overwhelmingly agreed that “MHPSS programs contribute toward the protection of Persons of Concern”.

Nevertheless, MHPSS is an emerging and sometimes ambiguous perspective for UNHCR as well as for many other humanitarian actors. Thus, the evaluation begins with definitions of psycho-social support and examples. As this evaluation discovered, MHPSS activities in UNHCR may exist as an adjunct to other programmes or by another name. Many thanks to Sarah Meyer, the author of this global review, for her expertise and up to date overview on the field of MHPSS in humanitarian interventions. Through her knowledge, sensitivity and persistence she was able to discern UNHCR’s level of engagement in providing MHPSS programmes to Persons of Concern. Sarah was also assisted by Nora McGann, Research Assistant from the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. Sincere thanks to the Steering Committee members of this review: Sabine Rakotomalala of Terre des Hommes - Switzerland, Dr. Mark Van Ommeren from the World Health Organization, and Marian Schilperoord and Stefanie Krause of UNHCR. Their advice and guidance were invaluable to this document. Most generous thanks to field based colleagues who informed the review by reporting on the importance and realities of providing MHPSS activities to Persons of Concern. For it stands to reason that a truly durable solution can only be present for an individual who has found a way to cope and create a viable support network in displacement.


MaryBeth Morand

Senior Policy & Evaluation Officer

© United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Policy Development & Evaluation Service

Geneve, June 2013