Call for Action to Meet Emergency Mental Health Needs

Oct. 9, 2019

Amsterdam

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War Child has presented a petition with over 20,000 signatures calling for increased resources to be directed towards humanitarian mental health responses. The petition was passed to Sigrid Kaag - Netherlands International Development Minister - during this week’s International Conference on MHPSS in Crisis Situations.

The petition calls on Kaag and other conference participants to prioritise mental health interventions and to allocate an additional US$200 million per year to expand the provision of psychosocial support in crisis situations. War Child supporters from the Netherlands, Sweden and Germany came together to sign the petition as part of our #drawtheline campaign.

The international conference saw government ministers, humanitarians, policy makers and sector experts agree to integrate and scale up mental health and psychosocial support in humanitarian responses. Yet it still remains unclear how this resolution will be financed - leading Tjipke Bergsma, War Child managing director, to call for urgent action.

Actions, not words

"All the right words were spoken but now these words must be translated into action sooner rather than later,” said Bergsma. “Many psychological problems develop early in [a child’s] life. More than 80 million children affected by armed violence are in direct need of psychosocial support. The longer it takes us to support their resilience, the more difficult it will be for them to lead normal lives.”

“More than 80 million children affected by armed violence are in direct need of psychosocial support."
Tjipke Bergsma, Managing Director at War Child

Children’s voices

War Child invited young people from conflict-affected countries to share their direct experience and opinions about mental health challenges in their countries at the conference. The petition was handed over to Minister Kaag by Patrick from South Sudan - who related his own call for increased action.

Patrick asked: “What do you do when your father, mother or brothers and sisters are killed? And you live in war? Minister, we hope that you listen to our voices and actually take action to make psychosocial care accessible. For all children who live in conflict areas and need this care so badly. "

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Youth from conflict-affected countries at the MHPSS conference to share their experiences about mental health challenges.

Photo: Daniel Wolters

Support package

Professor Mark Jordans - our Director of our Research and Development - co-chaired a working group during the conference on the support package that should be made available to children and youth in conflict zones. The group stressed the importance of acting early and identifying mental health problems among children and caregivers.

“More research is necessary so that we can all adhere to an evidence-based approach."
Professor Mark Jordans, Director of Research and Development at War Child

The social environment of children - encompassing families, schools and communities – was also identified as a key factor. When children most need support, it is family and the community who are closest to children and provide first-line support and care.

Jordans points out that there is more for the humanitarian sector to learn when it comes to child and adolescent mental health. “More research is necessary so organisations working on mental health and psychosocial support for children can adhere to an evidence-based approach,” he said. “War Child wants to share with other organisations evidence-based methods we have been developing to scale up support more quickly.”

#drawtheline

The International Conference on MHPSS in Crisis Situations took place in Amsterdam on 7 and 8 October, in the presence of the Dutch Queen Máxima and Princess Mabel. School children aged 10 and 11 covered the pavement in front of the conference venue with chalk drawings.

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School children drawing with chalk on the pavement of the conference venue.

Photo: Daniel Wolters

The event also saw Michaela DePrince - War Child Ambassador and Dutch National Ballet soloist - call on governments and international organisations to earmark five per cent of their humanitarian budgets towards mental health responses. DePrince experienced armed conflict herself as a child growing up in the midst of the civil war in Sierra Leone - and she underlined the importance of developing the resilience of children and youth.

“I never expected that I would still be alive today."
Michaela DePrince

“As a little girl I had absolutely no hope,” she said. “I never expected that I would ever be here, that I would still be alive today and that my dream of becoming a ballerina would actually happen."

War Child has been campaigning to #drawtheline under the psychological suffering and distress of children in conflict zones, using children’s drawings and book illustrations to draw attention to this important issue. The petition was presented to Minister Kaag in the presence of Princess Mabel.