Mindful Sheltering: Recognising and Enhancing the Impact of Humanitarian Shelter and Settlements on Mental Health and Psychosocial Well-Being

The Shelter and Mental Health Learning Event in May 2021, Doing More and Doing Better, explored the connections between living conditions, Shelter and Settlements activities and mental health to better understand how the humanitarian Shelter and Settlements sector can contribute to the mental health and psychosocial well-being of people during and after humanitarian crises. The event was a follow-up to the first Shelter and Health Learning Day in May 2020, which was reported in Towards Healthier Homes in Humanitarian Settings. Participants at the 2020 event expressed a collective lack of confidence in being able to articulate the intersections between their shelter activities and the mental health and well-being of the people they aim to serve. The report recommended that shelter practitioners develop a deeper understanding of the terminology of mental health and how mental health relates to shelter. The 2021 online event was instigated and hosted by the Centre for Development and Emergency Practice (CENDEP), Oxford Brookes University and CARE International UK, both partners in the Self-recovery from Humanitarian Crisis research team. It was attended by over 80 Shelter, Health, WaSH, Protection and Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) practitioners and researchers. The event was responding to a need to uncover and better articulate the impacts of existing Shelter and Settlements best practice on mental health and well-being and to plot a path towards more deliberate and documented beneficial impacts.From a focus on emergency shelter and housing improvements, the learning event moved on to consider further how the design, implementation and monitoring and evaluation of Shelter and Settlements programmes and projects could adopt an ‘MHPSS approach’ to humanitarian assistance. Recognition of the existing alignment between MHPSS ‘core principles’, the characteristics of ‘good shelter programming’ and the connections with Protection and other sectors is an important step. These points of alignment should be further identified and the opportunities for their expansion disseminated at global, country and local levels. Additional actions by Shelter and Settlement practitioners in the field, such as psychological first aid and making referrals, will require training and capacity building. Stronger connections and future collaborations between MHPSS and Shelter actors will allow useful cross-pollination of tools and indicators to allow evidence of the positive impacts of continued good shelter programming on mental health and psychosocial well-being to be built.