Mental Health in UN Peace Operations: Addressing Stress, Trauma, and PTSD among Field Personnel

UN peacekeeper guarding the temporary operating base of the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) in Mpati, North Kivu, 2012. Alexis Guidotti.

The challenging environments where many contemporary UN peace operations are deployed can take a toll on the mental health of both uniformed and civilian personnel. This has led to increased attention to questions around mental health in peace operations, and in 2018, the UN made mental health and well-being a system-wide priority. Yet two years later, much remains to be done to improve mental health in UN missions.

This paper looks at the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health issues among the military, police, and civilian personnel of UN peace operations. It analyzes the types of stressors and psychological factors affecting personnel in the field, explores the political and institutional challenges to instilling change, and reviews the UN’s response to the mental healthcare needs of field personnel. It concludes with recommendations for the UN to ensure its duty of care for field personnel:

  • Raising the profile of mental health in UN peace operations: The Secretariat and member states should shed light on the difficult conditions facing peacekeeping personnel and better assess the prevalence of mental health issues among staff; strive to reduce the stigma associated with mental health; and come to a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities in supporting mental health needs.
  • Providing more pre-deployment support: There is a need to train and sensitize personnel on how to recognize mental health issues, symptoms, and coping mechanisms. Preparedness and pre-deployment training on PTSD, trauma, and mental health should be based on minimum standards so that all contingents are equally prepared and equipped.
  • Strengthening support during deployment: Both the Secretariat and member states should uphold their duty of care for personnel in missions, including by fostering a culture of care, offering adequate psychosocial support, and improving human resources arrangements.
  • Continuing to provide support post-deployment: The UN and member states should recognize that their duty of care does not end after field personnel return from deployment. They should continue following up with former personnel to ensure they are receiving the psychosocial support they need through dedicated structures and resources.