Improving Access to Mental Health Services in Humanitarian Settings

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The people of the Occupied Palestine Territories (OPT) have been exposed to armed conflict for decades and have a high risk of developing mental health issues. The COVID-19 pandemic has only served to aggravate the issues further.

Although the need for mental health services is high, access is limited due to a lack of mental health professionals, stigmatisation, and poor infrastructure.

Since 2021, KIT has been working with Inuka Coaching, a digital mental health social enterprise based in the Netherlands, and Juzoor for Health and Social Development based in Palestine, to make mental health support more accessible and affordable. The first two phases of the project have been funded by the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO) with a Dutch Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant.

Inuka Coaching provides a platform where users can connect to a lay health worker trained as a coach for an online session on how to deal with challenges through a problem-solving approach. As the coaches are recruited from the community and do not have a history of working with mental health, it taps into a new pool of potential human resources for psychological support. This also contributes to improving access to these services in resource- constrained settings. As the support offered is anonymous, it helps overcome the stigma attached to mental health issues and to shift the narrative from the stigma associated with mental health.

KIT is the independent knowledge partner testing and measuring the efficacy of the Inuka approach within this protracted humanitarian emergency setting.

“Thanks to the SBIR grant, we can test the Inuka approach in Palestine. We are building an evidence base for more decentralised, lay health worker interventions in humanitarian settings, where access to mental health services is poor yet much-needed. After this small-scale impact study, we hope to raise the funds to conduct the first full-fledged randomised controlled trial of such an approach in a humanitarian setting,” explains the project leader, Dr Pierre Pratley.

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