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Emerging Practices: Mental health and psychosocial support in refugee operations during the COVID-19 pandemic

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1. COVID-19 and the mental health and psychosocial wellbeing of refugees

The COVID-19 pandemic and associated prevention and mitigation activities have major consequences for mental health and psychosocial wellbeing for refugees and other persons of concern. Many people who previously coped well, are now less able to cope because of the multiple stressors generated by the pandemic. The socio-ecological environment for adults and children is profoundly affected: social support systems may become dysfunctional or overburdened, caregivers may become sick or die; stress levels increase due to movement restrictions and crowded living conditions; income and livelihood opportunities are threatened. Many, particularly women and children, face increased protection risks including intimate partner violence and sexual abuse and exploitation. People with preexisting mental health conditions may experience a worsening of their condition and have difficulties in accessing appropriate care.

This document presents a brief overview of how UNHCR adapts its activities for mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) to the changing context of the pandemic. Staff of UNHCR and partners, in country offices in all regions of the world, have developed innovative field practices to continue providing essential MHPSS services to refugees. The examples in this document are testimony to the commitment and creativity of our staff and can serve as inspiration and encouragement for others to continue integrating MHPSS in the humanitarian work during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.