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