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Psychosocial care - what is it?

Psychosocial support aims to help traumatized people to return to an independent existence. Our experts from emergency humanitarian relief, social work, and psychotherapy offer a range of services to those affected.

Conflicts and disasters cause deep and severe changes to human surroundings. These can lead to a lasing existential, social, and psychological burden.

Losing a close friend or relation, or their job and income is a shocking experience for most people. In violent conflicts, these can also be accompanied by the destruction of their homes and surroundings, or severe injuries leading to lasting disability. Women and girls are often subject to sexual violence. Children and young people are forced to leave their studies and, in the worst cases, can be faced with the loss of their parents and siblings.


Psychosocial care helps people to stay mentally healthy

Adjusting to their changed circumstances can be difficult for refugees faced with a completely new environment, but life has to go on. We offer a range of Psychosocial Support concepts to help people faced with shocking experiences to remain mentally healthy. Robust mental health is the cornerstone of the process of finding a way out of their need, and resuming control over their own lives.

The four Levels of Need for Psychosocial Support

Psychosocial support divides the needs of traumatized people into four levels of need.
Each level is met with a different mode of intervention.

Level 1: Securing Existential Needs

The first Level of Need addresses the basic existential needs of people affected by conflict, displacement, and disasters. It is usually not possible to restore what has been lost in its entirety.

However, humanitarian emergency relief has the aim of reducing acute existential need. This means providing affected people with emergency shelter, as well as medical care and medication. If necessary, the injured need to be operated on.

We provide clean drinking water, warm meals, as well as clothes and blankets. Our WASH experts install sanitary facilities including toilets and showers.

Humanitarian aid generally targets all those people, who are in existential danger as a consequence of a disaster.

Level 2: Restoration of Economic Independence and Social Participation

A life in health and dignity means helping people to fulfil their basic economic and social needs. Our aid measures here are as varied as these needs.

Family members often lose contact during disasters, forcing them to search for their children, siblings, and parents. Reuniting families is an important task at the second level of Psychosocial Support.

Especially in disasters and cases of violent displacement, offering the chance to bury dead loved ones with dignity is also an important element of Psychosocial Support.

When family networks have been re-established, the restoration of economic independence and social participation becomes important

Children need a safe space to develop, play, and learn. Children should be able to continue their school lessons, and need recreational activities to keep them busy, maintain their development, and allow the adults to earn money. Young adults need vocational education or training to prepare them for work. Those who have experienced injustice require legal support.

The second level of psychosocial support can also involve a wide range of social advice and support mechanisms. This can involve daycare facilities, schools, youth groups, income-generating measures, vocational training, and legal consultation.

Providing assistance to people at their individual level smooths the way for positive developments at the community level. Helping people to help themselves allows for the organic creation of community structures. These allow for the skills acquired by individuals to be passed on to others and multiplies the effect of our aid.

Level 3: Stress Management and Relaxation

Experiences of loss and violence generally result in severe stress, despair, and grief. Worry and fear often prevent affected people from recovering their assurance and self-confidence. 

Alongside the aid provided at Levels 1 and 2, support at level 3 requires social socio-educational expertise. Staff trained in these methods are able to engage in protected individual and group interactions with affected people in order to help them to process their experiences.

In addition, relaxation courses such as yoga or other recreational activities can play a strong role in dealing with stress and grief.


Level 4: Treating Post Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD)

War and disasters are extreme situations that can result in lasting trauma. People who have experienced these situations remain liable to PTSD even months after their exposure. The symptoms of such disorders can include flashbacks to the traumatic events, insomnia or nightmares, irritability, concentration problems, elevated vigilance, or nervousness. Ideally, affected people should be able to consult with a psychiatrist or psychotherapist in order to establish and carry out long-term therapy.

However, conflicts and disasters often take place in poorly developed countries where professionally trained psychotherapists are not available. The direct deployment of foreign therapists would only make sense if patients were able to speak in an international language well, or with the support of a translator.

Aid organizations have responded to this bottleneck by offering basic trauma therapy training for local staff. Although this approach may not be able to cover all needs, it is at least able to mitigate them.

Psychosocial Support at Malteser International

Malteser International has created child-friendly spaces for young people aged between five and seventeen at the refugee camp in Wau, South Sudan. Here, children and young people have a space where they can develop playfully and in safety. Our trained social workers accompany them, and help them to recover mentally from the violent encounters that they have experienced.

In Nepal, we are working with KOSHISH, a mental health organization, to establish a network of mental health experts in the Kavrepalanchol and Sindhulpalchok districts. Our team of psychologists and social workers train doctors, teachers and volunteers on how to identify and help persons with mental health problems. Our aim is to create a social environment in which individuals with mental health problems no longer excluded, but accepted and supported. Mental health is one of the least prioritised areas in the health care sector of Nepal.

Strengthening affected people mentally is especially important following conflicts and disasters in order to help them to re-establish control over their lives.

Read more about our activities in other countries where we are providing psychosocial support: Burundi, Bangladesh, Thailand, and Ukraine.

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Breaking the Cycle of Mental Health Stigma - Psychosocial Support for Refugees in Thailand

Interview with psychosocial support supervisor Chitlada Kankeow

How does the experience of displacement affect people and their mental health? And how can these people be accompanied and supported, even if or precisely because the hopeless conditions and circumstances are not going to change anytime soon? Chitlada Kankeow and her psychosocial support team are addressing those very questions and are available with various psychosocial services for people in the camps.

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