Effective mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) in response to humanitarian emergencies connects with the worldviews, healing practices and language of the people it aims to assist. Faith is a factor in many individuals’ and communities’ capacity to cope with psychosocial challenges; for many people, for example, burying their loved ones according to the rituals of their faith is important in order to be able to grieve. This is why the Inter-Agency Standing Committee’s Guidelines on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergency Settings call upon humanitarian actors to engage with local religious and spiritual resources, groups and leaders in their regular programming. It is also why the integration of religious leaders and religious practices into standard operating procedures during the 2014–15 Ebola response in West Africa, for example, was so effective.
Developing faith-sensitive humanitarian response starts with recognising that religious practices, such as praying, can be an element of psychosocial support which should be complemented, rather than replaced, by other forms of MHPSS. Humanitarian practitioners can adopt a faith-sensitive approach regardless of their own or their organisation’s identification or non-identification with a faith tradition. Faith sensitivity is about the faith of the people you assist.
Despite major policy commitments many humanitarian and development organisations hesitate to take faith-related aspects sufficiently into account when designing their programmes or to consider local faith actors as potential partners to collaborate with on MHPSS. Practitioners tend to avoid dealing with faith-related questions out of concern that this might interfere with the humanitarian principles of neutrality and impartiality. Indeed, applying faith sensitivity in practice is not always straightforward. So, how should we approach the bringing together of faith and MHPSS in planning and implementing faithsensitive psychosocial responses that do not go against the humanitarian principles?
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