Call for papers

Linking mental health and psychosocial support to peacebuilding

In 2013 Intervention, Journal of Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Conflict Affected Areas highlighted the connection between peacebuilding and psychosocial work in a Special section with a very interesting and diverse collection of papers. The editors, Hamber, Gallagher & Ventevogel (2013) argued that, all too often, mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) practitioners focus on improvements in wellbeing of individuals and families, while not sufficiently taking into account that these take place within larger processes of societal change. Practitioners should, therefore, be more cognisant that MHPSS interventions could contribute to (or hinder) ‘building a wider peace or creating a social context that could impact more positively on overall psychological wellbeing’ (ibid. p.9). They ended the introduction to this Special section with expressing their hope that a wide ranging debate would follow.

The Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR) in South Africa and the War Trauma Foundation (WarTrauma) in the Netherlands heeded that call and jointly took up the thread. After hosting a conference on this topic in in South Africa in 2015 (see for the conference report http://www.ijr.org.za/publications/pdfs/IJR Healing communities conference WEB.pdf), the two organisations continued are working to bridge these two disciplines. As such, a Special issue of Intervention will be published in 2017 aimed specifically at MHPSS and peace building practitioners.

War and conflict weaken the social fabric that governs relationships and the capacity for recovery. In the aftermath, the causes of interpersonal conflict might still exist, and may even have worsened as a result of violence during the conflict. The ability of individuals and societies to cope with such extraordinarily painful experiences and with the developed distrust and fear is limited, and the breakdown of coping strategies often triggers psychosocial trauma. As a result, the natural ties, rules and bonds between people and within communities that strengthen coping and resilience, are destroyed. Restoring the social fabric that binds and supports people within their own communities is essential for those who have experienced serious traumatic events and recreating the feeling of connectedness to other people is essential for building a sustainable peace.

In order to assist conflict affected societies to come to terms with past legacies of large scale human rights violations, a range of processes and mechanisms have been developed by transitional justice academics and practitioners. As each post conflict context is unique, the mechanisms used to restore the social and political fibre of society needs to be context specific and adapted to the needs of each particular society.

Given that conflict tends to adversely affect people’s mental health, and that high levels of poor mental health affect the ability of individuals, communities and societies to function peacefully and effectively during and after conflict, post conflict justice and reconciliation mechanisms must necessarily integrate mental health and psychosocial support structures into their toolkits and ways of thinking.

The world of peace building has had fragmentary and idiosyncratic views of MHPSS and tends to equate it with ‘care for traumatised individuals’ and service delivery to direct victims with severe mental disorders. There are few studies that focus explicitly on the relation between psychosocial work and peace building. In particular, there is a lack of understanding in the ways MHPSS interventions within post conflict situations influence long-term collective social processes of peace building, reconciliation and other forms of social transformation. Describing key determinants that contribute to wider social transformation and identifying the factors thwarting social change would represent a major contribution to both of these fields.

The question is how to attain peace within contexts where people feel unsafe, untrusting of others, hurt and traumatised by the actions of fellow citizens, and have never learned to express their feelings and opinions in public, not even within small groups. They may keep silent or reserve their deeper opinions about the other and former enemies for conversations within the closeness of their families. This Special issue of Intervention seeks to focus on how to create a nexus between the two fields of MHPSS and peacebuilding, and how to prevent their continued isolation from one another. What projects and practices already exist which attempt to bring the two fields closer and what theoretical models might underpin a successful confluence of the two fields? These and other issues need to be explored further, and thus we welcome contributions on this topic for this upcoming Special issue of the journal in 2017.

Submission guidelines
Papers will be selected on their relevance to the field, applicability, methodological rigour and level of innovation. The editors want to collect the widest possible range of experiences. Therefore, we encourage short papers with carefully selected key information. Full papers (for peer review) should be up to 5000 words (including references and tables). Field reports (also peer reviewed) and personal reflections are welcome, but should be no longer than 3000 words.

Deadline for submissions: 1 April 2017 
Only electronic submissions will be accepted. See: www.editorialmanager.com/int

For more information or discussion of potential ideas, please contact:

Marian Tankink (m.tankink@wartrauma.nl)
Friederike Bubenzer (FBubenzer@ijr.org.za)

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