Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Still Overlooked in Peacebuilding, Says New UNDP Guidance

May 17, 2022
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Integrating Mental Health and Psychosocial Health into Peacebuilding

UNDP Photo

New York, USA, 11 May 2022 - The wounds experienced by those who live through conflict, whether due to physical harm, loss of loved ones or a pervasive feeling of insecurity, can have profound impact on lives, livelihoods and on a community’s ability to move out of crisis. Without integrated mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) programming, communities affected by longstanding conflict and crises struggle to secure longstanding peace. Recognising this gap, the United Nations Development Programme has launched a Guidance Note that will help ensure that mental health and psychosocial health become an integral part of peacebuilding and crisis prevention work.

Prolonged crises and violent conflict have devastating consequences on people’s mental health and well-being of communities. While mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) has been increasingly incorporated in humanitarian settings, MHPSS is yet to be structurally and/or explicitly considered as part of conflict prevention and peacebuilding efforts. 

UNDP’s Guidance Note on Integrating Mental Health and Psychosocial Support into Peacebuilding, which has been shaped by 139 people representing 67 organizations from 41 countries, provides key principles to help peacebuilders and institutions integrate MHPSS into peacebuilding initiatives.

Some of the key principles include:

  • There is no one-size-fits-all, step-by-step approach to the integration of MHPSS into peacebuilding. Creating local ownership by using inclusive and participatory processes will generate MHPSS programming attuned to local needs, existing structures and knowledge systems.
  • We need to acknowledge and address stigma: Mental health related stigma, negative attitudes and discrimination attributed to mental illnesses, is common globally and is a major obstacle that prevents people from seeking social support and treatment for mental health problems. Stigma originates from a lack of understanding, and fear.
  • Organizations must acknowledge, manage and support the well-being of staff working and living in contexts affected by violent conflict.

During the launch events of the guidance note, held in New York and Geneva on 9 and 11 May respectively, which brought together Member States, UN leadership, practitioners, experts, and the civil society, United Nations Assistant Secretary General and Director of UNDP Crisis Bureau, Asako Okai asserted: “Globally, one in four persons will statistically face a mental health concern in their lifetime; psychosocial needs are simply an indispensable part of all our lives. These needs are heightened when people live through conflict and crises. If the psychological impact of conflict and protracted crisis remains unresolved, communities can become trapped in cycles of violence”.

This critical need for integration was highlighted by Agi Veres, Director of UNDP Geneva Office at the Geneva launch: “Conflict does not always end when the violence stops. Mental wellbeing is more relevant than ever to peacebuilding and crisis response globally. Keeping it unaddressed can hold communities back from recovery. To secure lasting peace, we need to meet communities’ mental, emotional, social, and spiritual needs.”.

The Guidance Note is part of UNDP’s wider advocacy to enhance collaboration, co-creation and integration across the Humanitarian-Development-Peacebuilding (HDP) Nexus to enable us to deal with increasingly complex contexts where one approach alone does not suffice. The Guidance Note’s principles recognize that often humanitarian, development, and peacebuilding settings overlap each other. In order to fully meet people’s needs, mitigate risk and vulnerabilities, and promote sustainable, forming partnerships across this nexus is critical.

Reflecting on this nexus, Lise Grande, President of the United States Institute of Peace expressed, “The humanitarian community has for many years acknowledged that mental health is a key aspect of our engagement in peacebuilding. This Guidance note is very important because it goes a long way in helping the peacebuilding world to catch up. The Guidance Note brings together all the different, integrated ways in which we can address trauma, restore relationships within communities, forge new identities, and help communities unlearn violence as a response to conflict”.

Paul Bekkers, Permanent Representative of the Netherlands to the UN in Geneva affirmed “The Netherlands has been a key advocate for MHPSS in crisis situations for several years. We are therefore delighted that UNDP has launched their Guidance Note on integrating MHPSS in Peacebuilding today and honored to be the co-host of this event. We look forward to this Guidance, and knowledge materials and guidelines developed by the Inter Agency Standing Committee MHPSS Reference Group, together enhancing actual access to MHPSS in crises and (post) conflict situations.”        

Acting on mental health and wellness also means addressing factors exacerbating social exclusion, gender inequality, and poverty, contributing to UNDP’s wider goals and commitments under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Read the UNDP Guidance Note and its complementary report here.

Recording of the event

UNDP Media contacts:

Aimee Brown, UNDP Crisis Bureau Communications Specialist,