Mental Health Care as a Humanitarian Response

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently released new clinical guidelines for health care workers treating the mental health needs of people who have experienced trauma and loss. These guidelines are particularly significant because they reinforce the importance of including mental health care in humanitarian responses post-crisis.

As one of the largest torture survivor rehabilitation centers in the world, the Center for Victims of Torture provides mental health care to survivors of torture and war atrocities in areas of the world where few mental health resources are available.

Despite the widespread need for mental health services among populations coping with the aftermath of brutal conflicts, there are often few, if any, resources to address their complex needs. The psychological effects of torture and traumatic experiences during war can include anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. However, many primary care professionals are under-equipped to deal with these needs, leaving symptoms go untreated, and the increased potential that individuals, families, and communities are unable to rejoin society in a meaningful and productive way.

Fortunately, the WHO guidelines emphasize the need for integrating and understanding reactions to extreme stress and trauma in primary care. For survivors of psychological trauma and their mental health care providers, this increasingly comprehensive set of guidelines is essential.

The WHO guidelines are also an important next step in advancing access to mental health care in places of great need across the globe. Though this is an important step, it is not the final step. CVT joins WHO in the call for governments and donors to include funding for quality mental health interventions. Funding for training and supervision is essential in order to implement the guidelines, and further research is needed in order to expand the understanding of recommended effective interventions.

At a time when thousands of survivors of torture and war atrocities are waiting to receive the mental health care they so urgently need, increased financial support from the international community must be forthcoming.