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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

Volunteering and International Disasters

On this page you will find links to useful information for psychiatrists and mental health workers who are considering volunteering in emergency settings.  

The Royal College of Psychiatrists strongly recommends volunteering should be carried out as part of an organised and co-ordinated group by a recognised agency following internationally recognised guidelines. Volunteers should consider their own safety first and at all times and follow UK Government advice concerning travel.

The RCPsych recommends that volunteers considering working in emergency setting read the guidelines below and remember the principles of doing no harm. Volunteers should always ensure that they are not hampering any existing emergency recovery work. A RCPsych Occasional Paper on Principles for responding to people’s psychosocial and mental health needs after disasters explaines these principles further.


The IASC (Inter Agency Standing Committee) is formed by the heads of a broad range of UN and non-UN humanitarian organisations and was set up to be the primary mechanism for facilitating inter-agency decision-making in response to complex emergencies and natural disasters.

The IASC have produced Guidelines on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergency Settings.


The WHO has also produced guidelines that are useful for any group delivering mental health care in an emergency setting:


The WHO Mental Health Gap Action Programme (mhGAP) was set up with the aim of scaling up services for mental, neurological and substance use disorders for countries with low- and middle-incomes. The mhGAP curriculum has been used successfully in a number of setting and the curriculum has been modified to be used specifically is humanitarian settings.



The RCPsych Volunteers Handbook is a useful resource for psychiatrist wishing to volunteer in any setting.


College Members wishing to discuss working in a emergency settings can contact the International Liaison Manager, Elen Cook ( / 0203 7012584) or the Chair of the Volunteering and International Psychiatry Special Interest Group, Dr Peter Hughes (



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