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AT the beginning of the 1990s the Movement became aware of the psychological suffering caused by disasters. Several transport accidents and disasters called for national societies to respond to psychological support needs of victims and their families. Subsequently in 1991, the Danish Red Cross took the initiative to organize the first Red Cross and Red Crescent consultation on meeting the psychological needs resulting from stressful life events and disasters. As a result the International Federation developed its Psychological Support Programme (PSP) and established the International Federation Reference Centre for Psychological Support. Simultaneously, high intensity convicts were on the increase, notably in Somalia and the Former Yugoslavia. These growing pressures pushed the ICRC to tackle psychological needs of its own staff and gradually those of war victims.

   At the time this was a true pioneering step for the Movement. Since the mandate of the International Red Cross and the Red Crescent Movement is to respond to all aspects of humanitarian needs, it is absolutely clear that psychological needs have to be addressed as well. Psychological support must go along with provision of basic needs such as water and sanitation, food and shelter. In order to achieve this, new capacities have to be developed within National Societies and related training must be provided to Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers.

   We have come a long way since 1991 when only six National Societies addressed psychological needs of people in the aftermath of a disaster. Today, 65 National Red Cross and Red Crescent societies are actively taking part in the Psychological Support Programme. Some have extensive psychological relief services. Others are diligently expanding their existing services to include PSP.

   In the long term, our actions in this field will have to tackle several major challenges. Although much progress has been made over the last ten years, the context in which we operate is in perpetual change. As number of victims increase, resources stagnate. Type and magnitude of needs have become more complex; victims have expectations as demonstrated by the campaign "People on war ". We can achieve our own expectations by adapting to a new understanding of relief assistance, one which integrates mental health in all aspects of a National Society 's relief and social services.

Dr. Mette Sonniks
International Federation Reference Center
for Psychological Support

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