Background: Humanitarian emergencies can have a direct impact on the psychosocial well-being and mental health of children and adults. Providing mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) to those exposed to emergencies is a key component of many humanitarian aid responses.
Objectives: To conduct a systematic review on the barriers to, and facilitators of, implementing and receiving MHPSS programmes delivered to populations affected by humanitarian emergencies in low- and middle-income countries.
Methods: A comprehensive search of 12 bibliographic databases, 25 websites and citation checking was completed by June 2016. Studies published in English from 1980 onwards were included if they contained qualitative evidence on the perspectives of adults or children who had engaged in, or programmes providers involved in delivering, MHPSS programmes in humanitarian contexts. Thirteen studies were critically appraised and synthesised thematically.
Results: Community engagement was a key mechanism to support the successful implementation and uptake of MHPSS programmes in humanitarian settings. In particular, mental health sensitisation and mobilisation strategies and the need to develop effective partnerships with local communities, government and non-governmental organisations were seen as pivotal in increasing programme accessibility. Establishing good relationships with parents may also be important when there is a need to communicate the value of children and young people’s participation in programmes. Sufficient numbers of trained providers were essential in ensuring that a range of MHPSS programmes were delivered as planned but could be challenging in resource-limited settings. Programmes need to be socially and culturally meaningful to local populations to ensure they remain appealing. Recipients also valued engagement with peers in group-based programmes and trusting and supportive relationships with programme providers.
Conclusion: The synthesis identified important factors that could improve MHPSS programme reach and appeal. Taking these factors into consideration could support future MHPSS programmes achieve their intended aims.