College of Arts & Sciences Disaster Mental Health Institute

Statement of Understanding

Statement of Understanding

Signed December 1, 1997


I. Purpose

The purpose of this Statement of Understanding is to define the relationship between the Reference Centre for Psychological Support (RCPS) and the Disaster Mental Health Institute (DMHI) in the development and promotion of psychological support in the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and in national Red Cross societies.

II. Definition of Psychological Support

RCPS defines Psychological Support as the psychosocial support which anybody can give to their fellow human beings in critical, traumatic, or life-threatening situations. The people who will provide this support will mainly be Red Cross workers and volunteers. Therefore, this group will mainly be non-professionals or semi-professionals. It is important to emphasize this is about support and not professional treatment. The RCPS networks and links local mental health professionals into training for the local Red Cross/Red Crescent Society. This helps to ensure the maintenance of the programme after the Reference Centre decreases its involvement. A constant need for local evaluation, support, and supervision is important for the continuity of the programme.The RCPS helps in developing Psychological Support programmes within Red Cross Activities aiming at Social Welfare activities as well as First Aid and Disaster Preparedness activities. A concept of Psychological First Aid is being developed within several National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

III. Authority

The Reference Centre for Psychological Support is authorized by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to assist in developing the activities of the Federation in the field of Psychological Support in accordance with the ongoing internationally recognized scientific research and gained experience in general. It will assist disseminating the Federation guidelines and other methodology documents aimed at assisting the National Societies in providing psychological support to victims of disaster and stressful life events. This should be done by cooperating directly with National Societies in organising workshops, seminars and conferences to implement the programmes. The development of the programmes needs to proceed with strong respect for the cultural differences of the National Societies. This will be accomplished, in part, by developing the programmes in cooperation with local mental health professionals.

IV. Recognition

The Reference Centre for Psychological Support recognizes that the Disaster Mental Health Institute is a non-profit regental institute at the University of South Dakota dedicated to the promotion, development, and application of both practice and research in disaster mental health. The DMHI is prepared to assist the RCPS in developing and supporting psychological support programmes through National Red Cross Societies worldwide.Both organizations in their respective capacities recognize that these psychological support programmes are not a substitute for privately funded or federal, state, and local government mental health programmes, but may blend with and supplement those programmes if both the Red Cross and the government/private entities agree. Both organizations also recognize that the psychological support programmes need to be adapted to the cultural needs of each country, while maintaining the international principles of the Red Cross movement.

V. Organization of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies

The headquarters of the International Federation is located in Geneva, Switzerland and the Federation's RCPS is located in Copenhagen, Denmark and is hosted by the Danish Red Cross. The local unit of the Federation is the National Red Cross Society in each country, and the RCPS acts by providing support to National Societies in the development of psychological support programmes. RCPS works within the National Societies in a direct cooperation. Furthermore RCPS provides services for the International Federation by assisting and participating in Assessment Missions and Evaluation Missions. The International Departments of the National Societies are also able to receive advisory services on professional matters in connection with international projects.

VI. Organization of the Disaster Mental Health Institute

The Disaster Mental Health Institute is located at the University of South Dakota in Vermilion, South Dakota in the United States of America. It is a regental institute, designated by the South Dakota Board of Regents as a Centre of Excellence. It has administrative links to the Clinical Training Programme, the Department of Psychology, and the university governance structure. The DMHI has faculty, staff, and doctoral students who work to fulfil its mission.

VII. Method of Cooperation
  1. The DMHI will assist the RCSP in developing and maintaining a database regarding psychological support programmes and efforts by National Red Cross Societies worldwide.
  2. The DMHI will assist the RCSP in assembling and editing the Coping With Crisis newsletter.
  3. The DMHI will assist the RCSP in developing, implementing, and evaluating psychological support programmes for national Red Cross societies. This will include:
    • consulting in the design, preparation, and assessment of programmes;
    • assisting with the preparation of a group of trainers who will provide support for National Societies in developing and implementing programmes; and
    • participation directly with some national societies in developing, implementing, and evaluating psychological support programmes.
  4. The DMHI will also assist the RCSP in other aspects of the RCSP's mission in ways mutually agreed on by the DMHI and the RCSP.
  5. The DMHI will assist the RCSP in evaluating the RCSP's own programmes, and in setting goals and objectives for future development.
  6. The DMHI will assist RCPS in organising international Red Cross conferences on Psychological Support.

James W. Abbott, J.D., President
University of South Dakota

Jörgen Poulsen, Secretary General
Danish Red Cross

Gerard A. Jacobs, Ph.D., Director
Disaster Mental Health Institute

Mette Sonniks, Acting Director
Reference Center for Psychological Support

Margareta Wahlstrom, Under-Secretary General for Disaster Response and Operations Coordination
International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies