Supporting the mental health of people fleeing Nagorno-Karabakh

In Armenia, MSF teams are responding to the mental health needs of people suffering grief, shock, and other issues among those displaced from Nagorno-Karabakh.

An MSF team member conducts psychological first aid for two people who fled Nagorno-Karabakh.

Armenia 2023 © MSF

There is urgent need for mental health support for people displaced from Nagorno-Karabakh, alongside their other social and medical requirements.

On September 28, a medical team from Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) began receiving patients at the registration center in Goris, a town in Syunik province in southern Armenia. Two psychologists have provided mental health consultations and psychological first aid to over 200 people in just a few days. 

What is psychological first aid?

Psychological first aid is provided to people experiencing acute distress after a traumatic event, helping them cope with shock, panic attacks, and other issues related to mental health. The aim is to stabilize, secure a safe space, and ensure access to food, shelter, water, and medications.

On September 19, Azerbaijan launched an attack on various areas in Nagorno-Karabakh, a region that is a self-proclaimed republic internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but has traditionally been home to many ethnic Armenians. After a ceasefire agreement was reached 24 hours later, more than 100,000 people from the region fled to neighboring Armenia through the Lachin corridor, located between Nagorno-Karabakh and the border, which had been closed for 10 months.

“We are dealing with people who have lost everything,” said Narine Danielyan, MSF’s medical team leader in Goris. “Our approach involves several steps, including building trust, ensuring well-being, stabilizing those in acute distress, providing practical assistance, rebuilding social connections, offering coping strategies, and connecting them to additional resources and care.”  

MSF teams provide mental health care for people fleeing Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia.
In Goris, Armenia, MSF teams are providing mental health consultations and psychological first aid to people fleeing Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenia 2023 © MSF

The tip of the iceberg for people fleeing Nagorno-Karabakh

The people MSF meets are often exhausted from carrying multiple bags of their belongings, and they are often looking for specific support or just someone to listen to their stories and concerns. Most suffer from mental health issues, and MSF medical staff have observed stress, uncertainty about the future, shock, denial, fear, anger, grief, sleep disturbances, and physical symptoms such as stomachaches and headaches among patients. But that is just the tip of the iceberg of the long-term hardship that people can endure. 

“A woman came to us and repeatedly expressed her desire to return home immediately and asked for our help,” said 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.” 

Armenia: MSF sends team to aid people fleeing Nagorno-Karabakh

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MSF's mental health teams continue to follow up with patients who have been accommodated in some of the hotels or centers near the reception point in Goris by providing mental health sessions. Meanwhile, our teams remain actively engaged in assessing evolving needs, with a specific focus on general health care, continuity of care for patients with noncommunicable diseases, and addressing respiratory infections, among other illnesses.