Coordination in mental health: a priority in emergencies
In emergency situations, one of the priorities is to protect and improve people’s mental health and psychosocial well being. Achieving this requires coordinated action by those providing humanitarian assistance, including government entities, nongovernmental organizations, and civil society groups involved in mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS).
In this context, PAHO/WHO held a regional virtual course (for Latin America) entitled Coordination of Mental Health and Psychosocial Support, aimed at adequately and meaningfully incorporating mental health and psychosocial support into emergency preparedness and response plans in the Region of the Americas.
The course emphasized the need to develop technical working groups on mental health and psychosocial support in humanitarian emergencies and disaster situations and to facilitate technical working groups (TWG) on MHPSS at the intersectoral level, in accordance with international principles governing humanitarian action.
“The course on coordination mechanisms for mental health and psychosocial support contributed to strengthening governance and organizing actions at the national level. Knowledge was shared on the subject of mental health and psychosocial support in emergencies; a work plan was created; and an intersectoral technical group was established as a reference resource on mental health and psychosocial support.” Catarina Dahl, PAHO/WHO Brazil.
The course participants included emergency responders from health institutions and international organizations and humanitarian aid workers from Bolivia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, and Venezuela. The Area of Responsibility within the Global Protection Cluster, UNHCR, IOM, UNAIDS, UNFPA, the International Federation of the Red Cross, and the Psychosocial Health Care Center (CAPS) of Peru collaborated.
Corinne Sciortino, Coordinator of the UNICEF Child Protection Area in Emergencies in Brazil stated that “the course represented the first step toward the creation of an interagency intersectoral task force where the main actors from different areas and organizations were identified and engaged".
In addition, particular attention was paid to how to fight the stigma and discrimination experienced by people with mental illness. Seydi Segura of Costa Rica’s Ministry of Health mentioned that: "This is an area in Costa Rica where significant progress still needs to be made, as stigma and discrimination are attached to use of the mental health service”.
Elis Viviane Hoffmanndel of the Brazilian Ministry of Citizenship stressed that “the course added content to the knowledge acquired in everyday work. Although I have 12 years of experience working in mental health, the course added a great deal of extra information on topics that I had no knowledge of."
PAHO will continue to promote the creation and development of intersectoral coordination mechanisms for mental health and psychosocial well-being in emergency situations and to offer support for the effective creation of technical working groups in collaboration with other organizations.