Measuring mental health in humanitarian crises: a practitioner’s guide to validity

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Background: There are ongoing methodological advances in measuring mental health in humanitarian crises. This Special Section describes numerous innovations. Here we take a practitioner’s view in understanding the key issues related to assessment of mental health in humanitarian contexts and how the innovations contribute to the field.

Main body: In this guide for practitioners, we address the following issues: (1) clarifying the intended purpose of conducting mental health assessment in humanitarian crises: why is this information collected and for what intended purposes?; (2) determining what type of tool should be selected and the types of psychometric properties that are important for tools serving this particular purpose; (3) when a validated tool is not available, considering how qualitative and quantitative methods should be used to generate information on validity; and finally, (4) how to report on validity and its implications for interpreting information for humanitarian practitioners, governments, care providers, and other stakeholders supporting people affected by humanitarian emergencies.

Conclusion: Ultimately, mental health assessment tools are not independent of the group with which they were designed, nor are the psychometric properties of the tools or their utility universal across purposes. Therefore, organizations and stakeholders will optimize their positive impact when choosing tools wisely, appropriately adapting and validating tools, and providing guidance on how to interpret those findings to best serve populations in need.

Keywords: Validation, Complex humanitarian emergencies, Mental health and psychosocial support, Assessment, Psychometric properties