Taking Action Towards Sustainable Peace
Integrating Peacebuilding and Mental Health and Psychosocial Support
This policy paper, presented by ARQ National Psychotrauma Centre, brings together global experts in peacebuilding (PB) and mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) to issue a compelling call to action: the integration of PB and MHPSS.
Aimed at practitioners, experts, and policymakers worldwide, they call for the integration of PB and MHPSS as an essential strategy to foster mental health, psychosocial wellbeing and sustainable peace in fragile and post-conflict settings. Presenting an in-depth discussion on the imperative for integration, the paper also includes examples of how to bridge theory to practice, and recommendations to facilitate integration of the PB and MHPSS fields.
"The urgency to integrate MHPSS and PB cannot be understated."
A growing body of research shows that mental distress has a negative impact on violence prevention and on people's ability to contribute to peacebuilding efforts. Consequently, there is a clear and urgent need to develop new ways of supporting populations in conflict-affected settings that integrate approaches from both the MHPSS and PB fields. Building on recent international guidance on MHPSS and PB integration (including from UNDP, IASC Working group and ARQ, among others), it is crucial to advocate for the integration of MHPSS and PB policies globally and to establish best practice on the implementation of such policies.
Understanding Impacts of Violent Conflict and Trauma on Violence Prevention and Sustainable Peace
Violent conflict has cascading and overlapping consequences for the mental health and psychosocial wellbeing of individuals and communities, which in turn undermines violence prevention and peacebuilding efforts. Over time, some individuals affected by traumatic events may experience neuropsychological changes that may affect their ability to experience empathy, form a coherent identity, and experience a sense of belonging.
Conflict can also result in collective trauma, which occurs when a shared experience of violence is perpetuated through shared narratives or memories for group members, including those in subsequent generations who did not directly experience it. These memories become central to group identity and worldview, and can ultimately serve as justification for further acts of violence.
Individual, collective, and transgenerational trauma also pose barriers to peacebuilding. Processes such as dialogue, reconciliation, and transitional justice require trust, empathy and ability to engage with the opposing group, which may not be possible when coping with mental health and psychosocial issues. To truly transform conflict, it is also necessary to address and renegotiate the relationships and grievances that drive violent conflict in the first place. Therefore, mental health and psychosocial wellbeing is necessary to establish sustainable peace, while sustainable peace is a prerequisite for psychosocial wellbeing.
What are Integration and Co-Creation?
Integration is defined as bringing together aspects of PB and MHPSS, from beginning to end of an intervention. To achieve sustainable integration, members of both fields must collaborate, ideally using co-creation methods. Co-creation is an approach that brings practitioners from both fields together, within a local context, to examine their lived experiences of conflict and trauma, build trust and share approaches across both PB and MHPSS fields. This creates the foundation for practitioners to jointly develop, implement and evaluate joint MHPSS and PB interventions.
Integration in Practice: A Holistic Perspective
In practice, integrated approaches incorporate local PB and MHPSS practices that address the fluid relationship between experiences of violence at all levels.
- At an individual level, integrated interventions support the development of non-violent coping skills for difficult emotions and distress.
- At a family level, integrated interventions can strengthen parenting skills and ensure wellbeing of all family members.
- At the community level, integrated initiatives support positive narratives that promote non-violence and resilience for both victims and perpetrators. It is important to note that children and youth may disproportionately face consequences of conflict, and therefore may benefit from integrated interventions to support resilience and transform cycles of violence across generations.
- At the structural level, integrated interventions address power dynamics, and, when justice falls short, provide MHPSS to individuals and groups affected by conflict-related injustice.
Four Bridges of Theory to Practice
Tangible programme examples are provided to illuminate ways of implementing co-created, integrated approaches: one based in the West Bank to support families, one based in Burundi using a Narrative Theatre approach, and one in Uganda highlighting co-creation methods. And an in-depth case study on Ukraine is examining the possibilities for integrated MHPSS and PB approaches.
Recommendations: Concrete Steps Towards Sustainable Integration
- Champion the agency and local ownership of co-creation processes by MHPSS and PB practitioners.
- Develop integrated MHPSS and PB programmes that consider the historic roots of collective and generational trauma and that actively address its impact on contemporary conflict dynamics.
- Enhance collaboration with local and national actors to address structural drivers of conflict and psychosocial distress that may perpetuate grievances and fuel cycles of violence.
- Advocate for long-term policy planning to support and sustain integrated MHPSS and PB programmes.
- Encourage multi-sectoral collaboration between MHPSS and PB practitioners and policymakers at all levels.
- Advocate for long-term funding streams that break down barriers between the humanitarian and PB sectors to support integrated MHPSS and PB initiatives.
In conclusion, the urgency to integrate MHPSS and PB to address the mental health and psychosocial needs of conflict-affected individuals and communities and to foster sustainable peace cannot be understated.
In alignment with our exploration of integrated approaches to sustainable peace, it's noteworthy to recognise the policy paper of the IASC Working Group – a collaborative effort featuring ARQ as a proud group member. This collaborative work of global MHPSS experts sheds light on the long-term impact of armed conflict, providing additional context to the ongoing discourse. Our paper builds upon these insights, emphasising co-creation and bridging theory to practice, contributing to the collective dialogue on reshaping policies for the benefit of conflict-affected populations.
Read the policy paper
Download de publicatie Taking Action Towards Sustainable Peace: Integrating Peacebuilding and Mental Health and Psychosocial Support.
ARQ National Psychotrauma Centre