Mental health

Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergencies

General information related to most emergencies

The target group for WHO work on mental health and psychosocial support in emergencies is any population exposed to extreme stressors, such as refugees, internally displaced persons, disaster survivors and terrorism-, war- or genocide-exposed populations.

The WHO Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse emphasizes that the number of persons exposed to extreme stressors is large and that exposure to extreme stressors is a risk factor for mental health and social problems. The Department’s work on mental health in emergencies focuses mostly on resource-poor countries, where most populations exposed to natural disasters and war live.

The Department’s objectives, with respect to the mental and social aspects of health of populations exposed to extreme stressors are:

  • to be a resource in terms of technical advice for policy and field activities by governmental, nongovernmental and intergovernmental organizations;
  • to provide leadership and guidance to improve policy and interventions in the field;
  • to facilitate the generation of an evidence base for field activities and policy at community and health system level.

Key documents

Building back better: sustainable mental health care after emergencies

Emergencies, in spite of their tragic nature and adverse effects on mental health, are unparalleled opportunities to build better mental health systems for all people in need. This WHO publication shows how this was done in 10 diverse emergency-affected areas and how much mental health is crucial to the overall well-being, functioning, and resilience of individuals, societies, and countries recovering from emergencies

Psychological first aid: Guide for field workers

This guide covers psychological first aid, which involves humane, supportive and practical help to fellow human beings suffering serious crisis events. Endorsed by 24 international agencies, the guide reflects the emerging science and international consensus on how to support people in the immediate aftermath of extremely stressful events.

Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Humanitarian Emergencies: What Should Humanitarian Health Actors Know?

Based on the IASC Guidelines on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergency Settings (IASC, 2007), this document gives an overview of essential knowledge that humanitarian health actors should have about mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) in humanitarian emergencies.

Assessing mental health and psychosocial needs and resources

This assessment toolkit was developed because of frequent requests from the field to advise on assessment of mental health and psychosocial issues in humanitarian settings. It offers an approach that should help assessors review information that is already available and only collect new data that will be of practical use.

Latest publications

Mental Health Action Plan 2013-2020

The action plan recognizes the essential role of mental health in achieving health for all people. It aims to achieve equity through universal health coverage and stresses the importance of prevention.

Integrating the response to mental health disorders and other chronic diseases in health care systems

Strong links exist between mental disorders and other chronic diseases, not only with respect to their causes and consequences, but also in terms of their prevention and management.

Innovation in deinstitutionalization: a WHO expert survey

A WHO expert survey to identify principles and actions for expanding community-based mental health services, and/or to downsize institution-based care.

Social determinants of mental health

This paper highlights effective actions that can be taken to reduce risk of mental disorders throughout the life course, both at the community level and country level.

WHO MIND Project