28 Nov 13 09 Mar 18

Mental health

In 1998, Doctors Without Borders formally recognized the need to implement mental health and psychosocial interventions as part of our emergency work. For people who have lived through terrible events, the psychological consequences can be severe.

Doctors Without Borders teams have offered mental healthcare in more than 40 areas around the world, including the Russian Federation, Sudan, Iraq, Congo and Kashmir.

In 2016, Doctors Without Borders staff held 229,000 individual and 53,300 group counselling sessions.

Doctors Without Borders provides emergency medical aid in catastrophes all over the world — armed conflicts, natural disasters, famines and epidemics. Our doctors and nurses are often seen treating physical ailments: bandaging the war-wounded, rehydrating a cholera patient, performing an emergency caesarean section. But for more than 20 years, Doctors Without Borders has also been caring for patients’ mental health.

In 1998, Doctors Without Borders formally recognized the need to implement mental health and psychosocial interventions as part of our emergency work. For people who have lived through terrible events, the psychological consequences can be severe.

Depression and anxiety

Depression and anxiety can immobilize them, at just the time when they need to take action for themselves and their families. Mental healthcare is also part of services for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, nutrition, sexual violence and during disease outbreaks and disasters.

Our mental healthcare aims primarily to reduce people’s symptoms and improve their ability to function. Often this work is done by local counsellors specially trained by Doctors Without Borders. Our psychologists or psychiatrists provide technical support and clinical supervision.

When appropriate, our counselling services may reinforce or complement mental healthcare approaches that already exist in the local community.

At the same time, specialized clinicians treat severe mental illness. But severe illness accounts for a minority of the cases that we see.

Needs are high, and Doctors Without Borders continues to expand its mental health programs. Last year, MSF’s mental health teams performed more than 100,000 consultations worldwide.

Increasing capacity

People seek help for many reasons — the agonizing loss of a child in an earthquake, the trauma of sexual violence, getting caught up in a violent conflict. Our mental health workers listen to their stories, and help them find ways to cope and move on with their lives.

Treating severely disturbed people remains a challenge for our teams, given the complexity of managing psychiatric drugs and medication. Increasing teams’ capacity to treat these illnesses remains a priority for Doctors Without Borders.

Setting up mental healthcare programs in emergency situations is not straightforward, especially when violence and trauma is ongoing. Sometimes it is difficult to guarantee continuity of care in unstable and dangerous settings.

In 2016, Doctors Without Borders staff held 229,000 individual and 53,300 group counselling sessions.