Mental Health support for people affected by the earthquakes in Türkiye

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

Laure W

Clinical psychologist with a master's degree in philosophy. Since 2005, she has worked for Doctors without borders in contexts of violence, armed conflict and migration. She was a psychotherapist and national coordinator of the mental health unit and at Comede (Comité pour la santé pour les exilé-e-s) until 2021. Her research and practice focus on the clinic of exile, trauma and gender-based violence. They question both the techniques and systems of psychological care. Among her publications: "Les lieux de l'exil, subjectivités dans l'espace thérapeutique" (Journal des Anthropologues, Dec. 2018), "Transmettre pour exister: la fonction des récits traumatiques", in the collective work Violence et récit (ed. Hermann, dir. Marie-Caroline Saglio-Yatzimirsky. 2020), and "On ne fait pas de santé mentale. Retour sur la première mission " psy " de MSF" (Alternatives humanitaires, March 2023). She is currently leading a Crash-supported research project on the history, practices and controversies in mental health in MSF's French section.

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, 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 juin 2023, URL :

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