UNHCR - Refugees need better mental health support amid increasing displacement

UNHCR – Refugees need better mental health support amid increasing displacement

A South Sudanese refugee assesses her mood on a pictorial scale during a psychosocial counseling session in Bidibidi settlement, Uganda. © UNHCR / Rocco Nouri

GENEVA – The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said that refugees are showing great resilience in the face of life-changing conditions but need increased support for mental health services.

According to new figures released this week, UNHCR provided mental health and psychosocial support services to more than 472,000 refugees, asylum-seekers, their families and caregivers in the first half of 2022.

Despite steps being taken to improve access to psychosocial support, UNHCR is concerned that deteriorating socio-economic prospects and growing food insecurity in many refugee-hosting countries could compound the current pressures on refugees.

“The best way to improve the mental health of refugees is to find durable solutions to the crises they are fleeing from,” said Sajjad Malik, Director of Resilience and Solutions. “We know that the experience of displacement has a significant impact on emotional and social well-being, and it is the right of every refugee to be able to receive appropriate care and support.”

Refugees are exposed to stress at every stage of their displacement. Pressures include separation from families, xenophobia, lack of livelihood opportunities, perilous journeys, and exposure to conflict and persecution. A recent survey conducted by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the World Bank in Uganda found that rates of depression are significantly higher among refugees than among people living in host communities.

Today, UNHCR’s Executive Committee adopted a conclusion recognizing the mental toughness of the forcibly displaced, and urging increased availability of mental health and psychosocial support services for refugees and other displaced and stateless persons, including access to national health and social services.

In 2021, 1,683 primary health care staff in refugee settings were trained to identify and manage mental health issues in 19 countries.

Speaking about the conclusion, which came days after the observance of World Mental Health Day on Monday, Malik said he was encouraged by the commitment of countries to prioritize mental health and psychosocial support in the international response to displacement.

He added that part of ensuring refugees are well cared for is making sure that humanitarian workers are also in good mental health. “The priority is to improve mental health support for refugees, but we must also ensure that humanitarian workers are in the best possible condition to serve the people who need us most,” Malik said.

The Executive Committee’s conclusion also highlights the need to include mental health and psychosocial support when planning refugee responses and encourages states to integrate refugees and displaced persons into existing national services and care systems. Its adoption represents a significant recognition by countries in different regions and circumstances of the importance of mental health and psychosocial support to displaced and stateless people around the world.

The Executive Committee of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is a subsidiary organ of the United Nations General Assembly, composed of 107 member states, that advises the High Commissioner on international protection and approves the program budget.

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