The experience of an emergency can significantly impact the psychosocial well-being and development of a child. Exposure to violence, accumulation of stress, loss of or separation from family members and friends, deterioration in living conditions, inability to provide for one’s self and family, increased militarization and divisions in societies and lack of access to services can all have immediate and long-term consequences for children, families and communities.
Terrible violence as a result of armed conflict continues to have a negative impact on children and their families in many areas of the world. Children have been killed, and continue to be directly targeted by violence, including rape, torture and mutilation. The impact on the mental health of the people affected is often devastating. People in extreme distress, especially children, often require special support. Stigma and discrimination can also add to the suffering, and the possible disability which can be associated with mental suffering often leads to social exclusion.
In the Central African Republic alone, more than 2 million children are suffering the consequences of the crisis that erupted last year. The impact on the mental health and psychosocial well-being of these young people is enormous. The impact of this crisis on the health and social services too is immense, adding to the vulnerability of these children who may not have access to the support services they need. However, it is also important to remember that not all children react to distressing events in the same way; children can also be resilient and able to cope with difficult experiences, given time and basic community support.
It is important to note that this conflict is just one of many crises that has huge implications for the psychosocial well-being of children and caregivers across the world, as well as long-term implications for stability in the world. Armed conflict gives rise to an alarming range of child protection issues and protection concerns, including forced displacement, recruitment and use of children as soldiers, sexual violence, family separation, arbitrary arrest and detention, and exposure to combat and the use of explosive weapons.
Responding to these crises, UNICEF and other lead agencies working on the issue of mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) are guided by The Inter-Agency Standing Committee Guidelines on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergency Settings. The Guidelines are the official policy for mental health and psychosocial support in emergencies, endorsed by the leading agencies working in MHPSS response. Psychosocial support is a critical element in responding to the egregious violations that children are exposed to in the midst of armed conflict.
Picture: © Pierre Holtz | UNICEF