World Mental Health Day: New report confirms critical importance of mental health support to preventing conflict and building peace

New research by global peacebuilding organisation International Alert shows substantial new evidence of the impact of mental health interventions in preventing conflict within communities and supporting efforts to promote peace and reconciliation.

The report, Peace of Mind, outlines the findings of in-depth assessments of two of International Alert’s peacebuilding projects, in Rwanda and Tajikistan. It found that mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS), when combined with improved economic security and access to justice, can break damaging cycles of violence.

In Rwanda, the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi has left deep psychological wounds, including among younger generations. International Alert has been running group therapy and dialogue sessions aimed at addressing trauma and strengthening community cohesion. The research found that the mental health support provided by these sessions significantly improved trust and solidarity between different groups of people affected by the genocide and allowed community members to reconcile and heal.

  • Almost 90% of people who participated in these activities reported positive interactions with people from different backgrounds
  • Dialogue between adults and youth helped address intergenerational trauma, challenged stereotypes and supported collective healing
  • Over 95% of participants developed positive attitudes towards peaceful conflict resolution

I used to be held back by fear. But now I live in harmony with genocide survivors hurt by my actions. We live together peacefully. We met at our local meeting hall and had an open conversation on the wrongs that we did to them.

Bernard, project participant, Rwanda

Joining healing and reconciliation groups has proven to be beneficial for individuals… I became comfortable approaching different people, which was something I could not do before.

Woman spouse of FAR soldier, Rubavu, Rwanda

In Tajikistan, International Alert has been working with communities to reduce violence against women and girls, incorporating mental health interventions alongside other peacebuilding approaches including economic empowerment. Physical violence and social exclusion had led to poor mental health outcomes for women and gendered economic pressures had led to mental health challenges for men. The research found that mental health improved and incidents of sexual and gender-based violence were shown to reduce within families who participated in open discussions that supported mental wellbeing, received livelihood support and had access to legal advice.

  • Reports of physical violence against women by their husbands and other family members reduced by a third (from 66% to 33%)
  • Women participants felt more involved in family decision making and far fewer felt that their husbands should be the sole decision maker in financial matters (from 92% to 50%
  • Half of women participants overall and 90% of women with disabilities said they felt more supported by their family

During the group sessions we attended, we talked openly about mental health and wellbeing. My neighbours and I always shared our problems with the specialists and they helped us a lot.

Dilafruz, woman project participant, Tajikistan

My wife and the other women involved in the project have become much more self-confident. They know their rights better, they generate income for the family, they are more economically independent.

Older man project participant, Tajikistan

The report contains new guidance to support anyone working in conflict and post-conflict situations, from organisations to service providers and local and national authorities, to incorporate MHPSS into interventions to support peace and build safer, more cohesive societies.

The guidance comprises seven elements of an integrated mental health and peacebuilding approach, based on the evidence collected for the report. [4]

Ruth Simpson, author of the report, said:

“The linkages between conflict, mental health and peacebuilding are increasingly evident, but these are dependent on the context and nuanced understandings and experiences of violence and mental health.

“Through exploring our work in Rwanda and Tajikistan, we’ve learned that the most effective peacebuilding approaches are the ones that take community needs and the context as the starting point, and provide holistic responses to the complex interplay of psychosocial, social and socio-economic drivers of violence and conflict, while supporting individual and community wellbeing, societal cohesion, reconciliation and resilience.

“We hope the guidance we’ve developed will prove useful to anyone working in conflict contexts to bring about peaceful communities and encourage everyone to consider the vital importance mental wellbeing has on people’s ability to recover from conflict and create the conditions for positive, sustainable peace.”

Notes to editors:    

  1. Peace of Mind can be read in full here.
  2. The report is accompanied by photographs and video stories of project participants that are available on request alongside expert interviews.   
  3. The seven elements, which should be integrated with an understanding of specific contexts, are:
  • Access to context-specific, culturally sensitive MHPSS and related services.
  • Increased access to inclusive economic opportunities and economic security through savings.
  • Safe spaces for dialogue, including across social groups and generations.
  • Community sensitisation on mental health.
  • Redress for past violence, such as legal assistance for survivors of violence.
  • Peaceful resolution of disputes and non-violent communication.
  • Address negative gender norms that increase psychological distress and create barriers to wellbeing.

For further information, interviews, and access to photos and videos please contact [email protected] or +44 7775 756288.