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Mental health and psychosocial support in humanitarian settings: a public mental health perspective

  • W. A. Tol (a1) (a2), M. Purgato (a1) (a3), J. K. Bass (a1), A. Galappatti (a4) and W. Eaton (a1)...



To discuss the potential usefulness of a public health approach for ‘mental health and psychosocial support’ (MHPSS) interventions in humanitarian settings.


Building on public mental health terminology in accordance with recent literature on this topic and considering existing international consensus guidelines on MHPSS interventions in humanitarian settings, this paper reflects on the relevance of the language of promotion and prevention for supporting the rationale, design and evaluation of interventions, with a particular focus on populations affected by disasters and conflicts in low- and middle-income countries.


A public mental health approach and associated terminology can form a useful framework in the design and evaluation of MHPSS interventions, and may contribute to reducing a divisive split between ‘mental health’ and ‘psychosocial’ practice in the humanitarian field. Many of the most commonly implemented MHPSS interventions in humanitarian settings can be described in terms of promotion and prevention terminology.


The use of a common terminology across health, protection, education, nutrition and other relevant sectors providing humanitarian interventions has the potential to allow for integration of MHPSS activities in one overall framework, with diverse humanitarian practitioners working to achieve a common goal.


Corresponding author

* Address for correspondence: W. A. Tol, Department of Mental Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD, USA and Peter C. Alderman Foundation, Bedford, NY, USA and Kampala, Uganda. (Email:


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