Let’s talk about Mental Health: A new collaboration between the Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum and the Geneva Centre of Humanitarian Studies

1/12/22
News

Press Release, 2 December, 2022, Geneva.

The Geneva Centre of Humanitarian Studies is very pleased to announce a new collaboration with the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum on the occasion of their “Mental Health” year (2022-2023). Throughout the year, a series of five thematic conversations will bring together experts from different fields to discuss mental health and psycho-social support in the aid sector, as well as in Geneva. Together with experts and the public, we will explore questions such as: What are the new therapeutic approaches? How to represent and destigmatize mental health? How can I take care of myself or others?

Dr. Valerie Gorin, our Head of Learning, is coordinating these conversations with the Museum, to propose cross-sectoral perspectives, critical tools and practical resources to a broad audience. Conversation 1 is on 8 December, 2022. The idea for these conversations was born in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, which had an impact on mental health of the world population. People experienced high levels of anxiety and stress at fear of contracting the virus, added to brutal disruptions in our daily lives with lockdowns, restrictions of movements, lack of social connection with friends and relatives, unemployment, and working from home.

Added to feelings of isolation and exclusion, are the environmental anxiety and climate grief due to global warming and acceleration of extreme weather episodes, as well as negative psychological impacts due to the war in Ukraine since February 2022. The combination of these tragic events at a global level has also exacerbated inequalities of populations in low and high-income countries likewise, from unequal access to COVID vaccines, border shutdowns and movement restrictions, economic slowdown, and food and energy inflation. Emergency humanitarian NGOs such as Médecins sans Frontières, have stated in their International Activity Report (2020) that they had to operate “mobile clinic for homeless people, migrants, refugees, asylum seekers and unaccompanied minors living in emergency shelters, makeshift camps or on the streets” in Europe as well. These recent disruptive events have thus pushed us to reconsider vulnerabilities of individuals regarding physical and mental illness.

Yet, in the field of humanitarian responses, mental health concerns have been approached since a decade under the term ‘Mental Health and Psychosocial Support’ (MHPSS) to protect and promote mental and psychosocial wellbeing for individuals, families and communities experiencing distress in situations of migration, disasters or armed conflicts. MHPSS services consider mental health in its globality, including emotional, psychological and social wellbeing, through a multi-sectoral approach such as public health, education and protection. Instead of focusing on trauma, MHPSS aims at strengthening individuals and communities in their coping mechanisms through key psychological interventions as well as other participative, collective and social approaches, such as sports, music, arts. Innovative methods, such as narrative exposure therapy or participative theatre, have been developed to foster reconciliation among communities affected by all sorts of violence.

Mental health of humanitarian workers has also gained significant attention since the Rwanda genocide in 1994. Aid agencies have acknowledged the emotional and psychological distress experienced by their staff as they witness violence or face security issues in volatile contexts that can weaken individuals, in their personal wellbeing or their relationship with colleagues, the organization or people of concern. The mental wellbeing of humanitarian workers remains nevertheless insufficiently acknowledged outside the aid sector. This lack of visibility is not specific to humanitarian organisations, as people with mental illness in general suffer from stigma, prejudice and discrimination. There is still a strong taboo in society about mental illness, which was only partially lifted with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thus, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum, together with the Geneva Centre of Humanitarian Studies, will be conducting five thematic conversations between December 2022 and June 2023, under the banner “Let’s talk about mental health!”, to address mental health transversally, considering that mental wellbeing is a right for all. Any individual facing a disruptive event or situation might experience distress, which then requires an intersectional approach to understand coping mechanisms of individuals and communities, as well as learning from several approaches and methods. Humanitarian programmes provide services mainly to people experiencing distress, pain and/or grief in complex emergencies, but they include mental and psychosocial services and assistance from which other sectors in the society can learn, including in places and contexts that are not related to social exclusion, armed conflicts and disasters.

By focusing on mental health and mental well-being for all, these five conversations want to question and open lines of inquiry on therapeutic approaches and actors involved, that can be beneficial for all categories of population, in terms of psychosocial, artistic and cultural support. These conversations do not intend to build a hierarchy or compare mental distress experienced by people affected by different forms of violence or disruption, but to understand how mental health can be discussed, adapted and integrated in care practices, in all contexts where mental health of individuals and communities is affected.

First conversation

“Mental health and psychosocial support in humanitarian settings: where are we today?”

Date: 8 December 2022, 6.30pm to 7.30pm

Location: International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum, Avenue de la Paix 17, Geneva

Speakers :

  • Marcos Moyano, Mental Health Advisor, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)
  • Sofia Ribeiro, MHPSS Officer, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFCR)
  • Rémy Barbe, Head physician in charge of the Hospitalization Unit of the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Service (SPEA); Dept. of Women, Children and Adolescents, HUG, Geneva

Facilitator: Dr. Valerie Gorin, Geneva Centre of Humanitarian Studies

The conversations will be held in English only. Please register here.