Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis
Senior Advisor for Special Political Affairs
New York, New York
March 25, 2022
Thank you, Juan Ramón and Mexico, for hosting today’s Arria on such an important topic. I also want to express my gratitude to today’s briefers for their insight and guidance on how we can better approach mental health in the context of conflict and post-conflict settings. For sure, it needs to be more front and center in our work in terms of awareness training and the availability of services.
The United States appreciates the recognition of mental health and psychosocial support services as critical in conflict and post-conflict humanitarian settings, reinforcing that psychological wellbeing is essential to physical health and wellbeing, as well as to ending the cyclical violence that drives many of the threats to international peace and security this Council remains seized with year after year.
The United States has long supported mental health and psychosocial support programming as a lifesaving response in humanitarian contexts. U.S. efforts have included providing psychosocial support to improve individual coping skills; supporting specialized care for individuals experiencing psychological distress; ensuring provision of mental health services in addressing both individual and group emotional support needs; and reinforcing safe and dignified access to information and assistance. This programming doesn’t just benefit the individuals who receive them. By helping its recipients become more resilient, it helps the communities and the societies they live in become more vibrant and safe.
As humanitarian crises grow, so do the mental health and psychosocial implications. Let me highlight a few examples. After more than 11 years of Assad’s brutal war in Syria, an entire generation of children has known nothing but conflict and continues to endure the horrors of destruction, starvation, and homelessness. Yet access to psychosocial support remains incredibly limited, with few resources for children, their parents, and overall population. There are worrying reports of a rise in suicides. Syrian refugees also need these services and we welcome the efforts of refugee-hosting countries to provide access.
All of us have seen the wrenching footage of Afghan girls leaving their schools in tears this week, after the Taliban reneged on its decision to allow girls to attend secondary school. Turning away girls from schools due to their gender not only crushes the hopes and dreams that have sustained millions of them through years of conflict, but makes them more vulnerable to the lasting traumas inflicted by the gender-based violence and child marriage. The Taliban must reverse this betrayal of its commitments to the Afghan people and the international community.
In northern Ethiopia, we have heard horror stories over the last 16 months. Critical to this response are survivor-centered and trauma-informed gender-based violence programs, including the establishment of safe spaces for women and girls.
For those who have survived the genocide, crimes against humanity, and other forms of violence committed by members of the Burmese military, we must do everything we can to ensure the provision of mental health services. That means treatment for survivors and those suffering from conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder.
We are also gravely concerned at the deteriorating humanitarian situation in and around Ukraine and the trauma unleashed by Russia’s war of choice on millions of civilians – so many of whom are children.
As Mexico’s concept note points out, the World Health Organization believes that one in five people who have experienced war or other conflict will have depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia. This striking statistic brings into focus the scale of human suffering currently being inflicted by Russia through its aggression in Ukraine – a sovereign country with over 44 million people. If it continues, we can expect one in five of those 44 million, or 8.8 million people, will need help in the future. Many will struggle for the rest of their lives with the trauma.
Ukrainians trapped in besieged areas, as well as refugees, are enduring significant psychological stress and exposure to traumatic events. Yesterday, UNICEF reported that half of all children in Ukraine have been forced to flee their home, an event that will generate lasting trauma for a generation.
Humanitarian deliveries must be allowed without interference. Aid workers must be able to deliver mental health and psychosocial support. The recently released UN Ukraine Flash Appeal and the Regional Refugee Response Plan underscore that priority needs in Ukraine and the region include mental health services to conflict-affected populations, tailored for specific needs, including for children, older persons, and health workers.
We urge Member States, the United Nations, and humanitarian organizations working in Ukraine, and across the globe, to increase efforts to fund and provide cross-sectoral mental health and psychosocial support services that are of quality, trauma-informed, contextually sensitive, gender-transformative, and provided with respect for human rights.