Mental Health in Complex Emergencies

The Mental Health in Complex Emergencies (MHCE) course is a week-long training course for mental health professionals and program staff who wish to establish mental health or psychosocial programs in a humanitarian context within conflict and post-conflict areas.

The course will aim to provide a practical orientation and training, including how to conduct rapid assessments, design and set up mental health services or psychosocial programs (exploring the differences between them), and undertake clinical work and therapeutic approaches in non-western contexts. It addresses the issues of cultural validity, programming for children, addressing severe mental disorders, gender-based violence, human rights, taking care of oneself and dealing with burnout. The course will also introduce potential field workers to essentials such as personal security, logistics, and practical aspects of humanitarian work in the field.

The MHCE training program targets health, and other professionals, wishing to gain a better understanding of what is entailed in addressing mental health and psychosocial issues in complex emergencies and humanitarian settings.

The technical standards of a humanitarian intervention have considerable importance in achieving short-term results, including maximizing survival rates. However, a clear understanding of the psychosocial context in which the intervention is being undertaken is essential if longer-term goals are to be properly set and achieved. Much of the psychosocial training currently being undertaken is based on remedial action to counter psychosocial dysfunction resulting from disaster. There is observational and anecdotal evidence that individuals and communities can show enhanced psychosocial functionality during and following some disasters. If dependency is to be avoided and a smooth, rapid return to independence from humanitarian assistance is to be encouraged, then the factors at work must be clearly understood.

Students are exposed to both the most recent academic thought on these matters as well as the experience of field practitioners. Students are also sensitized to the non-material aspects of humanitarian assistance and achieve an understanding of the importance of clearly planning assistance within its psychosocial context. This module emphasizes the well-being of the beneficiaries as considered in the recent 'IASC Guidelines on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergency Settings' developed by WHO, UN and local and international agencies working in the field of psychosocial assistance.

This course is a week-long elective course for the IDOHA and IDMHA modules of the MIHA.

Course Directors

Larry Hollingworth, CBE, is the Humanitarian Programs Director for the Center for International Humanitarian Cooperation (CIHC) and Visiting Professor of Humanitarian Studies at the Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs (IIHA) at Fordham University in New York. Over the past decade, Larry has served as Humanitarian Coordinator on CIHC-supported missions for the United Nations in Iraq, Lebanon, East Timor, Palestine, and Pakistan. After serving as a British Army officer for thirty years, Larry joined the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and held assignments in Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea. He was appointed UNHCR Chief of Operations in Sarajevo, during the siege of the city in the Balkan conflict. He is a frequent lecturer on relief and refugee topics in universities and is a commentator on humanitarian issues for the BBC. In his current role as Humanitarian Programs Director, which he has held for over 15 years, Larry directs humanitarian training courses for participants from or intending to enter the humanitarian aid world. He has directed 45 one-month courses and at least 50 one-week courses, of which there are over 2,300 alumni.

Lynne Jones, OBE, FRCPsych, PhD, is a child psychiatrist, relief worker, writer, and experienced trainer. She has spent much of the last 20 years establishing and running mental health programs in areas of conflict or natural disaster including the Balkans, East and West Africa, South East Asia, the Middle East, Central America, Haiti, and most recently the Philippines. Her most recent book is Then They Started Shooting: Children of the Bosnian War and the Adults they Become (Bellevue Literary Press, 2012). Jones has an MA in human sciences from the University of Oxford. She qualified in medicine before specializing in psychiatry and has a PhD in social psychology and political science. In 2001, she was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for her work in child psychiatry in conflict-affected areas of Central Europe. She regularly consults for UNICEF and WHO. She is an honorary consultant at the Maudsley Hospital, London, and a visiting scientist at the François-Xavier Bagnoud Centre for Health and Human Rights, Harvard University. She is currently a part time Consultant in child and adolescent mental health for the Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust.

Peter Ventevogel, MD, is a psychiatrist and a medical anthropologist. Since October of 2013 he is the Senior Mental Health Officer with UNHCR, the refugee agency of the United Nations. From 2008-2013 he was the editor-in-chief of Intervention, Journal for Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Conflict Affected Areas, published by the War Trauma Foundation. He worked with the NGO HealthNet TPO in mental health projects in Afghanistan (2002 – 2005) and Burundi (2005-2008) and as their Technical Advisor Mental Health in the head office in Amsterdam (2008-2011). In 2011 and 2012 he also worked as psychiatrist with Arq Foundation, the national trauma expert center in the Netherlands. Peter regularly did consultancies for the World Health Organization and the UNHCR in Egypt, Jordan, Libya, Pakistan, Sudan and Syria. He has been course director of several academic short courses such as the course ‘Culture, Psychology and Psychiatry’ (Amsterdam Masters of Medical Anthropology), and the ‘Practice Oriented Course Mental Health & Psychosocial Support in Post Conflict Setting’ (HealthNet TPO, the Netherlands).

MHCE Core Faculty (2016)

  • Lynne Jones, OBE, FRCPsych, PhD, FXB Center for Health & Human Rights, Harvard University; Cornwall Partnership Foundation NHS Trust
  • Larry Hollingworth, CBE, CIHC/IIHA, Fordham University
  • Willem van de Put, HealthNet TPO
  • Peter Ventevogel, MD, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
  • Inka Weissbecker, PhD, MPH, International Medical Corps (IMC)

MHCE Guest Lecturers (2016)

  • Maria Bray, MA, Global Advisor for Child Protection, Mental Health & Psychosocial Support, Terre des hommes, Lausanne
  • Mark Cousins, Independent filmmaker and writer
  • Wilma Doedens, MD, Technical Advisor, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Geneva
  • Scott Pohl, JD, Senior Community-Based Protection Advisor, UNHCR, Geneva
  • Andrew Rasmussen PhD, Associate Professor, Psychology, Fordham University, New York, Director, MS in Applied Psychological Methods
  • Janis Ridsdel, MSc, Protection Officer (Sexual and Gender-­‐Based Violence / Children), UNHCR, Geneva
  • Mark van Ommeren, PhD, Coordinator Mental Health in Emergencies, Department of Mental Health and Substance Dependence, World Health Organization (WHO), Geneva
  • Willem van de Put, Director, HealthNet TPO, Amsterdam
  • Lena Verdeli, PhD, Associate Professor of Psychology and Education, Director of the Global Mental Health Lab, Columbia University, New York
  • Inka Weissbecker, PhD, MPH, Global Mental Health and Psychosocial Advisor, International Medical Corps (IMC), Washington D.C.

Representative Syllabus
Course Flyer