This manual focuses on the mental health of survivors of trauma, especially trauma associated with GBV. The aim is to provide a very practical supplement to the existing literature. GBV does not occur in isolation. Interventions to protect the mental health of survivors must take account of broader humanitarian guidance.
“Guidelines for Integrating Gender-based Violence Interventions in Humanitarian Action”, published by the Global Protection Cluster and Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC 2015), indicates the minimum support that should be in place to prevent and respond to GBV. Survivors of GBV need help to cope with immediate physical injuries, as well as psychological and social support, security, and legal redress.
At the same time, prevention programmes should address the causes of GBV and factors that contribute to it. Those who manage protection programmes or provide protection services should be “GBV informed”: they should have the knowledge, skills, and compassion required to help GBV survivors. Workers who provide mental health and psychosocial support can cause harm if they do not manage its many sensitive issues professionally. The IASC “Guidelines on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergency Settings” (2008) provides a list of ‘dos and don’ts’ in this respect.
Survivors of GBV need different forms of support at different stages. When violence occurs, and when communities are in the midst of conflict or an emergency and protection mechanisms are not functioning, it can be difficult to train helpers to handle or supervise GBV cases or create conditions for healing afterwards. To plan training, consult the matrix in Chapter 3 of the IASC Guidelines (2005). This lists recommended interventions for preventing and responding to sexual violence in emergencies.
In addition to the IASC guidelines, helpers should be familiar with the four protection principles. The Sphere Handbook (2018) states that protection should do no harm, should provide assistance, should provide protection from violence or coercion, and should help people who are affected by disaster or armed conflict to claim their rights. These four principles capture the fundamental obligations associated with humanitarian response and should be implemented.
A valuable quick-reference tool is the GBV coordination handbook. This provides practical guidance on leadership roles, including key responsibilities and specific actions that any GBV coordination plan in an emergency should include. Many societies, especially ones recurrently affected by disasters or conflict, establish emergency plans. Initiatives to prevent and respond to GBV should be integrated in such plans. When doing this, always make use of existing knowledge and capacity; do not re-invent the wheel.
Mental health and psychosocial support for conflict-related sexual violence: principles and interventions (WHO 2012) is an introduction to mental health and GBV. To make sure that clinical management of GBV survivors is properly handled, read Clinical Management of Rape Survivors (WHO 2004). It describes best practices and summarises the issues that must be addressed.
For an extensive selection of links related to Gender Based Violence please have a look at our thematic page on GBV.