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Experts want practical research to improve mental health of people experiencing humanitarian crises

Press release from PLoS Medicine


Experts want practical research to help improve mental health of people experiencing humanitarian crises

Experts in regions experiencing humanitarian crises want more research focused on generating and developing practical knowledge that could have tangible benefits in humanitarian settings rather than yet more research on topics, such as the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder, that have to date dominated academic debates and research.

These findings are important because such crises affect millions of people--in 2009, more than 119 million people were affected by natural disasters and there were 36 armed conflicts in 26 countries--and previous research in such settings has demonstrated the negative impact of humanitarian crises on mental health and psychosocial well-being, including increased psychological distress, social problems, and common mental disorders, such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

In a study led by Wietse Tol from Yale University in Connecticut, USA and published in this week's PLoS Medicine, researchers developed a consensus-based research agenda to strengthen mental health and psychosocial support in humanitarian settings with input from 82 experts (an interdisciplinary group of academics, policy makers, and practitioners) representing regions where humanitarian crises occur.

The experts agreed that the ten priority research questions should be in areas related to problem analysis (four questions on identifying stressors, problems, and protective factors from the perspective of affected populations); mental health and psychosocial support interventions (three questions on sociocultural adaptation and on effectiveness of family- and school-based prevention); research and information management (two questions on assessment methods and indicators for monitoring and evaluation); and mental health and psychosocial support context (one question on whether interventions address locally perceived needs).

The authors argue that addressing this research agenda would better align researchers and practitioners to focus attention to perspectives of populations affected by humanitarian crises.

The authors conclude: "Our research priority setting initiative--the first of its kind in this particular field--showed promising points of agreement between diverse stakeholders on research priorities for mental health and psychosocial support in humanitarian settings."

They continue: "There was a strong endorsement of research that achieves tangible benefits for programming and that gives emphasis to participation with and sensitivity to the specific sociocultural context of the populations living in humanitarian settings."


Funding: Research for the Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Humanitarian Settings - Research Priority Setting (MH-SET) project was funded by the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, World Health Organization; Durham University; and HealthNet TPO. VP is supported by a Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellowship in Clinical Science. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Competing Interests: Because the authors all work in this research area, it is conceivable that they could benefit from any increased attention and financing regarding research on mental health and psychosocial support in humanitarian settings. The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the institutions that they serve. VP and ES are members of the PLoS Medicine Editorial Board.

Citation: Tol WA, Patel V, Tomlinson M, Baingana F, Galappatti A, et al. (2011) Research Priorities for Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Humanitarian Settings. PLoS Med 8(9): e1001096. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001096



Wietse Tol
Global Health Initiative MacMillan Center
Yale University
New Haven, Connecticut
United States of America
+1 203 432 3410

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