Dr. Andrea Northwood
Director of Client Services
The Center for Victims of Torture
As NGOs gather in Geneva for UNHCR’s Annual Consultations, the Center for Victims of Torture
(CVT) was honored to be included in the first official session UNHCR has held in over a quarter century of these annual gatherings that focuses on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS).
As CVT’s Director of Client Services, I joined Dr. Inka Weissbecker of International Medical Corps
, Dr. Pieter Ventevogel, UNHCR’s Senior Mental Health Expert, and Dr. Sharuna Verghis, our colleague in Malaysia, to speak on the importance of accessible, timely, culturally appropriate, and high-quality mental health and psychosocial support programs for refugees and other persons of concern to UNHCR.
All over the world, distressing experiences, such as forced migration due to conflicts and disasters, torture, gender based violence, can significantly impact a refugee’s mental and psychosocial well-being. According to the World Health Organization
, the rates of mental disorders likely double after emergencies, such as war and disasters. These disorders include severe anxiety or depression that can be debilitating and impair the ability of those affected to care for themselves or their families. The International Medical Corps reports
that “Mental illness is one of the great invisible burdens on all societies, accounting for four of the 10 leading causes of disability worldwide.”
In humanitarian crises, women are especially vulnerable to experiencing social and/or psychological problems because of family loss or separation, economic and/or educational disadvantage, single parenting demands, cultural restrictions that restrict mobility and increase risk of exploitation or abuse, and other barriers. Paradoxically, women are also best positioned to become community leaders, educators, and healers if they get the professional assistance and support they need.
When individuals are psychologically able to function, they are more likely to have the ability to access other health care services, such as those interventions to fight infectious diseases and child malnutrition. Improved mental health can lead to improved overall health for the individual and communities as a whole.
For these reasons, CVT, along with its partners in the Global Mental Health Advocacy Working Group, is working to emphasize the role of MHPPS in humanitarian crises responses, including the need to integrate MHPSS across worldwide health systems.
We are pleased to see UNHCR’s recognition of the importance of MHPSS by including it on the agenda and hope that this is just a first step toward greater inclusion of mental health within the global health, refugee protection, and human rights agendas so that we stand a better chance of ending the cycles of violence and creating a better future for all.