Destruction in the city of Beirut following the port blast on 4th August 2020. Photo: Jade Van Huisseling Destruction in the city of Beirut following the port blast on 4th August 2020. Photo: Jade Van Huisseling Destruction in the city of Beirut following the port blast on 4th August 2020. Photo: Jade Van Huisseling

Psychosocial support: a vital (but sometimes overlooked) element in humanitarian response

Psychosocial support: a vital (but sometimes overlooked) element in humanitarian response

When it comes to talking about humanitarian response there is often a focus on activities such as food distributions and ensuring access to clean water. However, one aspect of our work that is rarely in the limelight but is vital to the wellbeing and recovery of vulnerable communities is Psychosocial support. Here we explore what Psychosocial support is, and why it is so important.

Following the massive explosion in Beirut that killed at least 200 people, injured over 5,000 and left the homes of more than 300,000 damaged, Concern has been on the ground providing emergency support to people who have had their lives devastated. In addition to providing items such as tools and wood for rebuilding and toiletries, we have been providing Psychosocial support.

 “In a country which has suffered a 15 year war up to 1990, explosions trigger trauma and supporting people’s mental health is a vital part of our response,” Concern’s Lebanon Country Director Catherine Whybrow explained.  

But what is Psychosocial support, and why is it so important?

Rebuilding connection in a healthy way

Generally speaking, Psychosocial Support (PSS) includes all actions to promote the wellbeing of people, considering their psychological state (thoughts, feelings, behaviours) together with their social connection and support around them (relationships, interactions). It includes support provided by family, friends and the wider community and giving individuals strategies to support themselves with the goal of protecting, promoting and improving psychological wellbeing.

At Concern, Psychosocial support is provided through two avenues: prevention and response. Prevention focusses on awareness sessions, centred on topics such as communication, anger management, and learning coping mechanisms for difficult situations. Case management response involves working with individuals, responding directly to the psychological and social needs of that person and referring them onwards for more specialised support when appropriate. This is particularly vital after an emergency when people need to find positive coping mechanisms to cope with a new traumatic situation.

Emergency psychosocial response

Siba Bizri works in Psychosocial support for Concern Worldwide in Lebanon.
Siba Bizri works in Psychosocial support for Concern Worldwide in Lebanon.

Siba Bizri has worked for Concern in Lebanon for six years. She began working in Child Protection, moving over to Psychosocial support case management two years ago. Prior to the explosion in Beirut, the Psychosocial support team in Lebanon were already responding to two emergencies: the Syrian crisis and spread of the coronavirus (Covid-19). During the Covid-19 lockdown, the team had to work remotely. A 24-hour hotline was set up, with many women and children requesting protection services and help securing basics such as food, shelter, and medicine. They also have a helpline for mental health assistance and Gender Based Violence (GBV) through which we can refer anyone that needs more than basic counselling onto specialised services. Siba explains that women suffering from IPV (intimate partner violence) mostly use this, cases of which had increased during lockdown: “It was very busy in those times.” The UN Women has described the worldwide increase in domestic abuse as a "shadow pandemic" alongside Covid-19. It is believed that globally cases have increased by 20% during the lockdown, as many people are trapped at home with their abuser [BBC].

Psychological first aid (PFA) is one form of basic support Psychosocial support (not a clinical or psychiatric intervention) which consists of being attentive to individuals who may need support, listening and comforting them, helping them understand their concerns, addressing their basic needs and linking them to information or services. Since the explosion in Beirut, Siba reveals that Concern are now getting many requests for mental health services. Through PFA we are able to not only address people’s basic needs through distributing dignity kits, hygiene kits and food, and connecting them to other services such as our Shelter department, we are also connecting individuals with organisations specialising in mental health who can offer psychotherapy or more specialised care.

“The most important activity to be done.”

Siba cannot emphasise enough the importance of psychosocial support.

After a crisis, like this explosion, psychosocial support is one of the most important activities to be done. Especially this event, it is very traumatic for people. Not all people can respond in the same way, especially children or people who have specific needs. It is very important now to build people’s resilience to cope with a new situation so that they can continue with their lives and where possible restart their work and education, to live normally. These activities can transform someone from a passive victim to an active survivor.

Siba Bizri

Psychosocial support is extremely important, especially as part of psychological first aid during an emergency. It is the first step to stop difficulties occurring after a crisis: “It is important to help people who are searching for care and support in a healthy way.”

Siba adds:

Most people need someone who can hear them, who they can feel comfortable with and easy to talk to. I like to listen. I am very interested in helping people to advocate for their rights, to build their confidence. Especially Syrian women – they don’t have any relatives in Lebanon. Through our support, they have gained confidence in expressing their feelings and are comfortable talking to a case worker who can understand them and listen to them.

Siba Bizri

You can help the people who have been left in urgent need by donating to our Lebanon appeal today.

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