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Psychological first aid for people fleeing Nagorno-Karabakh

MSF offers mental health support to people displaced from Nagorno-Karabakh

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On Tuesday 19 September, Azerbaijan launched an attack on various areas in Nagorno-Karabakh. The region is a self-proclaimed republic internationally recognised as belonging to Azerbaijan, but which has traditionally been home to many ethnic Armenians. 
After a ceasefire agreement was reached 24 hours later, more than 100,000 residents from the region made their way to neighbouring Armenia through the Lachin corridor, located between the region and the border, which had been closed for 10 months. 

We are dealing with people who have lost everything. Narine Danielyan, MSF medical team leader in Goris

The displaced people have an urgent need for mental health support, alongside their other social and medical requirements. On Thursday 28 September, a medical team from Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) began receiving patients at the registration centre in Goris, in Syunik province, southern Armenia.

Two psychologists have provided mental health consultations and psychological first aid to over 200 people in just a few days. 

“We are dealing with people who have lost everything,” says Narine Danielyan, MSF’s medical team leader in Goris. 

“Our approach involves several steps, including building trust, ensuring well-being, stabilising those in acute distress, providing practical assistance, rebuilding social connections, offering coping strategies, and connecting them to additional resources and care.” 

Psychological first aid for people fleeing Nagorno-Karabakh
Our teams provide mental health support and psychological first aid to people who have fled Nagorno-Karabakh, in Goris, Syunik province. Southern Armenia, September 28, 2023

The people our teams meet are often exhausted from carrying multiple bags; they are often looking for specific support or just someone to listen to their stories and concerns. 

Most suffer from mental health issues. Our medical staff have observed stress, uncertainty about the future, shock, denial, fear, anger, grief, sleep disturbances and physical symptoms, such as stomach aches and headaches, among the patients we see. But this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the long-term suffering that people can endure. 

“A woman came to us, repeatedly expressing her desire to return home immediately and asking for our help,” says Danielyan. 

“Almost everyone we talk to tells us they have lost a loved one or a distant family member. Most of them are devastated and severely psychologically affected.” 

Our mental health teams continue to follow up with patients who have been accommodated in some of the hotels or centres near the reception point in Goris by providing mental health sessions. 

Meanwhile, we remain actively engaged in assessing evolving needs, with a specific focus on general healthcare, continuity of care for patients with non-communicable diseases, and addressing respiratory infections, among other illnesses.

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Press Release 27 September 2023