Psychosocial support

The need for psychosocial support

The world faces increasing challenges every day and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) provides humanitarian assistance not only with traditional relief aid such as shelter, food distribution and basic health care, but also with psychosocial support.

Psychosocial support is an integral part of the IFRC’s emergency response. It helps individuals and communities to heal the psychological wounds and rebuild social structures after an emergency or a critical event. It can help change people into active survivors rather than passive victims.

Early and adequate psychosocial support can:

  • prevent distress and suffering developing into something more severe

  • help people cope better and become reconciled to everyday life

  • help beneficiaries to resume their normal lives

  • meet community-identified needs

Disasters, conflicts and health problems have severe psychosocial consequences. The emotional wounds may be less visible than the destruction of homes, but it often takes far longer to recover from emotional impact than to overcome material losses.

Early support and adaptation processes - which respect local customs in mental health or psychosocial healing - allow an affected population to cope better with a difficult situation.

Social effects are the shared experiences caused by disruptive events and consequent death, separation, sense of loss and feeling of helplessness.

The term psychosocial refers to the close relationship between the individual and the collective aspects of any social entity. Psychosocial support can be adapted in particular situations to respond to the psychological and physical needs of the people concerned, by helping them to accept the situation and cope with it.

The Reference Centre for Pyschosocial Support (PS Centre)

Founded in 1993, the PS Centre works with National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies all over the world to promote and enable psychosocial well-being of beneficiaries, humanitarian staff and volunteers through the following strategies:

  • operational assistance
  • capacity building
  • competence development of staff and volunteers
  • advocacy and knowledge generation
  • policy and strategy development

How is it organized?

Increasingly National Societies have become involved in psychosocial support and have gained expertise in previous and ongoing emergencies, and in long-term psychosocial support programmes.

The PS Centre is hosted by the Danish Red Cross, and supported by the Canadian Red Cross, Finnish Red Cross, French Red Cross, Hellenic Red Cross, Icelandic Red Cross, Norwegian Red Cross, Swedish Red Cross and has worked with several research institutions.

The PS Centre and the Health in Emergencies Unit in the IFRC Health and Care Department, have guided the work on the Psychosocial Support Programmes and supported National Societies with relevant tools and inter-agency work. The regional Red Cross Red Crescent Psychosocial Support Programme networks that exist in several zones, are a key resource.

Examples of PS work around the world:

  • support to PS delegates in Sichuan, Mongolia and Myanmar
  • PS assessment in Georgia and Beslan
  • Tsunami lessons learned project
  • development of an PS component to Emergency Response Units (ERU)
  • training and workshops in Israel, Russia, Uganda, Syria
  • facilitation of Health ERU and Health in Emergencies training in China, France, Germany, Hong Kong and Norway
  • psychosocial film Rebuilding Hope
  • a psychosocial toolkit (CD-ROM),
  • programme assistance in a number of National Societies, including Palestine Red Crecent Society and Danish Red Cross
  • a community-based PS support training kit and a handbook on PS interventions


Mental Health and Psychosocial Network

The Psychosocial Working Group

Psychosocial news archive

Rebuilding Hope – PS Centre’s Audio and video page

Psychosocial interventions – a handbook
This handbook is the result of extensive review of psychosocial interventions with particular focus on the lessons learned from the psychosocial response to the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004.


MSF Mental Health Guidelines

PS Centre´s Annual Report 2008

PS Centre’s Strategy 2009-2010

WHO brochure on Mental and Social Aspects of Health of Populations Exposed to Extreme Stressors 

IASC Guidelines on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergency Settings
These guidelines reflect the insights of practitioners from different geographic regions, disciplines and sectors, and demonstrate an emerging consensus on good practice among practitioners. The core idea is that social supports are essential to protect and support mental health and psychosocial well-being in the early phase of an emergency. In addition, the guidelines recommend selected psychological and psychiatric interventions for specific problems. English – French - Spanish

SPHERE: Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Disaster Response
The Sphere Project is a programme of the Steering Committee for Humanitarian Response (SCHR) and InterAction with VOICE and ICVA. The project was launched in 1997 to develop a set of universal minimum standards in core areas of humanitarian assistance.

Mental and social health during and after acute emergencies: emerging consensus?
This overview article outlines some of the arguments and principles that are emerging within the field of mental health and psychosocial support. There is emerging agreement on what good public health practice in respect of mental health and psychosocial support interventions for disaster-affected communities includes.

Managing stress in the field
This publication is a practical manual. The different types of stress experienced by delegates are described along with the associated symptoms. It highlights the importance of identifying and knowing personal, team and organizational resources. English – French - Spanish