Psychosocial support for adolescent girls in post-conflict settings: beyond a health systems approach

Fiona Samuels, Nicola Jones, Bassam Abu Hamad , 2017

Adaptive and adequately resourced health systems are necessary to achieve good health outcomes in post-conflict settings, however domains beyond the health system are also critical to ensure broader wellbeing. This paper focuses on the importance of psychosocial support services for adolescent girls in fragile contexts. Its starting point is that adolescence is a pivotal time in the life course but given the physical, cognitive and emotional changes triggered by the onset of puberty, it can also be a period of heightened sensitivity and vulnerability to trauma, social isolation, bullying by peers, a lack of supportive adults and gender-based and sexual violence. Our findings highlight why humanitarian and biomedical approaches in their current form are inadequate to address these complexities. Drawing on qualitative fieldwork (consisting of in-depth and key informant interviews as well as group discussions in Gaza, Liberia and Sri Lanka involving a total of 386 respondents across the three countries), we argue that going beyond biomedical approaches and considering the social determinants of health, including approaches to tackle discriminatory gendered norms and barriers to service access, are critical for achieving broader health and wellbeing. While all three case study countries are classified as post-conflict, the political economy dynamics vary with associated implications for experiences of psychosocial vulnerabilities and the service environment. The study concludes by reflecting on actions to address psychosocial vulnerabilities facing adolescent girls. These include: tailoring services to ensure gender and age-sensitivity; investing in capacity building of service providers to promote service uptake; and enhancing strategies to regulate and coordinate actors providing mental health and psychosocial support services.

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Journal publication | Cross-cutting