Brief mental health interventions in conflict and emergency settings: an overview of four Medecins Sans Frontieres -- France programs
Conflict and Health 2013, 7:23 doi:10.1186/1752-1505-7-23
Mental health problems, particularly anxiety and mood disorders, are prevalent in the setting of humanitarian emergencies, both natural and man-made disasters. Evidence regarding best strategies for therapeutic interventions is sparse. Medecins Sans Frontieres has been providing mental health services during emergencies for over two decades, and here we compare data from four programs.
Program Overview: In China, 564 patients were followed for an average of 7 sessions after a major earthquake. The most common diagnoses were PTSD and other anxiety disorders. Between program entry and exit, the median global assessment of functioning increased from 65 to 80. At program entry, 58% were considered moderately, markedly or severely ill; a proportion which fell to 14% at program exit. In Colombia in the setting of chronic violence, 2411 patients were followed for a median of two sessions. Anxiety disorders and major depression were the most common diagnoses, and 76% of patients were moderately or severely ill at program entry. 91% had symptomatic improvement at program exit. In Gaza, 1357 patients were followed for a median of 9 sessions; a majority was under age 15. PTSD and other anxiety disorders were the most common diagnoses, and 91% were moderately or severely ill at entry. 89% had improved symptoms at program exit. In the West Bank, the 1478 patients had similar characteristics to those enrolled in Gaza. 88% were moderately or severely ill at entry; 88% had improved at exit.
Discussion and evaluation: It was feasible to implement brief yet effective mental health interventions in a wide variety of humanitarian contexts -- post-natural disaster, during acute violent conflict and during chronic violent conflict. The most common diagnoses were PTSD, other anxiety disorders and mood disorders. The use of local specially-trained counselors who were focused on coping skills and improving functionality over a brief time period, likely contributed to the symptomatic improvement seen in a large majority of patients across the four sites.
Mental health is an essential part of a health care response to humanitarian emergencies. In a variety of settings, we show the positive results of brief interventions. Further research is needed to improve and evaluate mental health interventions in crises.