Community-Based Approaches to MHPSS Programmes: A Guidance Note



Community-based approaches to Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (CB MHPSS) in emergencies are based on the understanding that communities can be drivers for their own care and change and should be meaningfully involved in all stages of MHPSS responses. Emergency-affected people are first and foremost to be viewed as active participants in improving individual and collective well-being, rather than as passive recipients of services that are designed for them by others. Thus, using community-based MHPSS approaches facilitates families, groups and communities to support and care for others in ways that encourage recovery and resilience. These approaches also contribute to restoring and/or strengthening those collective structures and systems essential to daily life and well-being. An understanding of systems should inform community-based approaches to MHPSS programmes for both individuals and communities.

● Individuals are engaged in interpersonal relationships with family members, colleagues, friends and neighbours.

● Individuals are also part of communities. They can be members of political parties, congregations, women’s and youth associations and interest groups. Such groups are embedded in cultures and social norms and subcultures with shared world views, beliefs, traditions, histories and customs and are subject to changes. Networks of relationships and community membership are fundamental in defining an individual’s identity and contributing to well- being. They support people in acquiring knowledge, attitudes and skills, including on how to cope with impacts of crises, and provide protection and a sense of belonging. The communities around an individual support the many steps in a person’s life that lead to responses to unexpected events; they can also sometimes be obstacles due to negative social norms (e.g. a GBV survivor might be rejected by her/his community, a child associated with an armed group might be rejected by her/his family, etc.). Communities also contain organizations and institutions such as schools, health centres, religious organizations and civil society organizations, which serve similar supportive functions for individuals, offering a sense of belonging, safety and protection.

● The community context is embedded within the larger societal level which involves higher level social, economic and political structures.

All these networks of relationships have effects on individual well-being. Often these effects are positive and constitute important sources of protection and support. But these social networks can have negative effects, limiting freedom of choice, stigmatizing differences, discriminating against the outgroup, etc. These negative effects can be magnified by any types of crisis. Analysing and understanding the effects of social groups and connections on individual well-being and striving to strengthen the positive effects and mitigate the negative effects are at the centre of communitybased approaches to MHPSS. The strong link between the ways that humanitarian aid is delivered and the well-being of those who receive the aid is usually referred to the promotion of meaningful participation, the respect of religious and cultural practices and the empowerment of the ability of affected people to holistically promote their well-being. This is crucial for community-based approaches to MHPSS: in order to improve psychosocial well-being, what services are delivered is as important as how people are involved in the process of working towards improved wellbeing. This involvement can have different gradations, and consist of informing, consulting, involving, collaborating and empowering.

This guidance note comprises information already available in the Inter-Agency Standing Committee Guidelines on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergency Settings, and other sources, with an aim to frame and validate what most practitioners already know from their daily practice in a short reminder.