MHPSS lessons learned from global disasters and the coronavirus

  • November 16, 2020

Ea Suzanne Akasha  interviews professor dr. Barbara Juen about the psychosocial effects during COVID-19

Part 1: ABC of disasters and research findings applied to #COVID19
Part 2: Research recommendations for the upcoming phases of COVID-19
Ea Suzanne Akasha, technical advisor at the IFRC PS Centre, interviews professor dr. Barbara Juen, Technical Manager of the psychosocial services at the Austrian Red Cross and scientific advisor to ENPS and IFRC PS Centre, about the psychosocial effects of COVID-19.

In the first part of the interview, Barbara Juen describes the disaster cycle and COVID-19 efforts in relation to promoting resistance within mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery. She emphasizes that action needs to be taken toward all four phases simultaneously, which requires significant capacity building, acute interventions for people currently experiencing stress, while also reflecting on the lessons learned from this pandemic so far.

Barbara Juen also presents the MHPSS vulnerabilities and the resistance that have emerged from the coronavirus in relation to specific demographics such as age, gender, profession and socioeconomic levels. The COVID pandemic is associated with significantly high levels of psychological distress that in many cases will meet the threshold of clinical relevance. It has therefore become a priority for many countries to mitigate the mental health impact from the coronavirus. Addressing mental health issues during and especially after the pandemic should be a primary focus.

“The prevalence of depression compared to 2017 is now seven times higher, which is really a disturbing rise, especially when knowing from former pandemic studies that numbers normally do not increase during the pandemic. They usually rise after the pandemic,” said Barbara Juen.

The second part of the interview presents factors that can increase resilient to MHPSS risks during a crisis. This include coping strategies such as maintaining a healthy lifestyle and social contact and also having the ability to accept a certain level of anxiety and negative emotions. She emphasizes the importance of maintaining psychological flexibility, which is the ability to adapt to new situations and tolerate certain levels of disturbing emotions. Professor Barbara Juen discusses certain empowering mindset changes that can improve potential mental health issues, in which people transform their self-perceptions from a passive victim of the pandemic to an active survivor.

“In psychosocial support we have to focus much more on self-efficacy,” says Barbara Juen. “This means teaching people what they have to accept at the moment, as well as about focusing on areas that are within their control.”