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“We don’t do mental health”: a review of Médecins Sans Frontières’ first “psy” mission

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Laure Wolmark is a psychologist. She worked for MSF between 2005 and 2009, before being coordinator of the Mental Health Unit of the Comede (Comité pour la santé des exilé·e·s – committee for the health of exiled persons). She is currently conducting a study on the history of mental health at MSF France.

This article was published on March 27th, 2023 in the journal Alternatives Humanitaires, in an edition focused on mental health.

Leninakan, December 1989. It was a year after the earthquake that devastated Armenia that Médecins Sans Frontières launched its first “psy” mission. The author looks back at the reflections and hesitations that surrounded this “time zero for mental health” within the NGO that left their mark on the mental healthcare projects that MSF's various sections set up in the following decades.

This article is based on ongoing research into the history, practices and debates of mental health within the French section of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). The first interviews conducted as part of this project as well as the articles, chapters in joint publications and internal reports consulted, unanimously name Armenia in the aftermath of the December 1988 earthquake as the first intervention in which activities to provide mental healthcare were integrated into a humanitarian aid mission.It should be noted that Médecins du Monde also conducted its first psychological-care mission in Armenia. See Boris Martin, La belle histoire, 1980-2020, Médecins du Monde, Éditions Médecins du Monde, 2020, https://www.medecinsdumonde.org/app/uploads/2022/01/Medecin_du_monde-La_belle_histoire_1980-2020_Boris_Martin.pdfThere is a great deal of literature about this first mission and many actors still remember, albeit sketchily and hesitantly, its beginnings.


To cite this content :
Laure Wolmark, “We don’t do mental health”: a review of Médecins Sans Frontières’ first “psy” mission, 5 June 2023, URL : https://msf-crash.org/en/publications/humanitarian-actors-and-practices/we-dont-do-mental-health-review-medecins-sans

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