Humanitarian Health Action

Purpose statements for panels and sessions

WHO Conference on the Health Aspects of the Tsunami Disaster in Asia

Panel 2.6: Mental and psychosocial aspects


The Tsunami disaster has imposed a huge burden on communities, not only physically but also in terms of the psychological trauma inflicted on them. It should be noted that EACH AND EVERY PERSON in the population is psychologically affected to some extent. Thus, in terms of numbers, the magnitude of the problem of psychological trauma of the disaster affected population is as large as the size of the population. It is imperative that psychosocial interventions be made accessible to each person in the community, because psychological distress can hamper rehabilitation and resumption of normal life.

WHO’s policy on mental health and psychosocial support to disaster victims is that it should be community-based and culturally appropriate and take into account the needs of special groups such as children, women, the elderly, etc. WHO recommends that psychosocial support be provided to affected communities by community-based workers who understand the needs of disaster victims and are trained by experts in psychosocial support methodologies.

The role of the WHO lies in defining the psychosocial and mental health needs of the community, establishing technical guidelines to be used, providing technical support to governments, NGOs and other stakeholders involved in psychosocial support, as well as training people for implementation of psychosocial support strategies, monitoring and evaluation of programmes and working with governments to develop mental health services.

Key questions for this panel

Mental health sector response to the tsunami disaster during the early phase and recovery phase.

  • national actions taken in response and recovery;
  • actions taken by the international assistance community - especially UN, donors, NGOs; (and, specifically WHO's actions).

Psychosocial needs assessment: How sound were the initial and ongoing health assessments of the disaster?

  • Rapid assessment vs Systematic assessment
  • Quantitative vs Qualitative assessment

Coordination: How are stakeholders and diverse NGOs co-operating and coordinating with each other, including how resources are being mobilized and utilised? Gap filling: How are the mental health and psychosocial needs of the population being met, and with what results?

Capacity building: How can country capacities at each level of service delivery be strengthened so as to be better prepared for future disasters?

How can we build agreement among key international stakeholders on a better, joint system for the mental health response to disasters