Chapter 13 – Mental Health
To actively promote and support research on the trauma experienced by personnel confronting child soldiers and interacting with children affected by armed conflict, and to provide appropriate pre-deployment preparation, as well as mental health support during and post-deployment.
Why is this principle important?
Peacekeepers who encounter child soldiers can face significant moral and psychological dilemmas,Endnote 140 in part due to the sharp dichotomy between the simultaneous perception of child soldiers as both threats and victims. This fundamental tension can cast serious doubt over how peacekeepers should treat child soldiers, and ultimately, encounters with child soldiers may have significant and potentially long-lasting psychological effects on the peacekeeper.
More research is required to better understand the peacekeeper’s experience in this regard. In the meantime, there are general steps that Member States can take with respect to mental health to help prepare peacekeepers prior to deployment, to support them during a mission, and to help them once they return home.
How can this principle be implemented?
Support research on the psychological harm that may be experienced by peacekeepers after encountering child soldiers and children affected by armed conflict: Currently, there is limited data on the psychological impact of interactions with child soldiers on peace keepers. Member States should harness existing academic resources, as well as facilitate the pursuit of new research and effective knowledge transfer, to improve the health and wellness of peacekeepers and, ultimately, support more effective peacekeeping operations.
Ensure adequate access to comprehensive mental health services for peacekeepers before, during, and after deployment: Member States should provide ongoing access to comprehensive mental health services – before, during, and after deployment. These services should include both preventative and reactive measures to address mental health needs throughout a person’s career. Before peacekeepers are deployed, they should be provided information on identifying and understanding stress reactions, and learning key stress management strategies to promote mental resilience. After deployment, effective screening processes should be put in place to identify any signs of distress, and should be followed up through long-term monitoring of personnel. Resources in support of mental health could also include psychosocial and spiritual services, for both peacekeepers and their families, as appropriate.
Provide mental health training and education to prepare peacekeepers for potential encounters with child soldiers and children affected by armed conflict: Personnel should receive mental health training and education prior to their deployment in order to prepare them for the some of the potential challenges of the mission, including those associated with encountering children. In particular, emphasis should be placed on the following:
- Increasing mental health literacy: Mental health training and education should address the knowledge and beliefs about mental illness that affect its recognition, management and prevention, as well as provide information on the importance of early care and attention, and the resources and supports available.
- Reducing the stigma around mental health: Effective mental health training should address the stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination that contribute to the stigma associated with mental illness and that interfere with care-seeking behaviour. Challenging myths and stereotypes, providing facts about mental illness, and normalizing mental health challenges throughout the military career can increase acceptance and recognition of mental health challenges, and contribute to increased and earlier care-seeking.
- Increasing mental resilience: Mission-specific training prior to deployment should include realistic scenario-based training on the significant challenges that may be encountered during the deployment. Such training can help peacekeepers anticipate and mentally prepare for how they might respond to potentially distressing situations, and rehearse the application of effective responses in a safe training environment. Mission-specific training with complex scenarios can provide peacekeepers with an opportunity to experience the psychological dilemmas inherent in dealing with child soldiers, and to discuss various courses of action and possible outcomes. This can help peacekeepers develop mental flexibility and adaptability, as well as problem solving skills to deal with unanticipated scenarios.
Examples and resources:
Guidelines on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Armed Conflict and Other Situations of Violence: Developed by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), these guidelines “outline the organization’s approach to mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) during and after armed conflict and other situations of violence. They provide a framework for harmonizing MHPSS programmes within the organization, and an insight into its strategic processes and field practices.”Endnote 141
To implement this principle, Member States should undertake the following:
- Support research on the psychological harm that may be experienced by peacekeepers after encountering child soldiers and children affected by armed conflict.
- Ensure adequate access to comprehensive mental health services for peacekeepers before, during, and after deployment.
- Provide mental health training and education to prepare peacekeepers for potential encounters with child soldiers and children affected by armed conflict by:
- Increasing mental health literacy;
- Reducing the stigma around mental health; and,
- Increasing mental resilience, including through scenario-based training exercises and activities.
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