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Capturing the essential: Revising the mental health categories in UNHCR’s Refugee Health Information System


1 MD, PhD, Public Health Section, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Geneva, Switzerland
2 MSc, PhD (cand.), Department of Population Health, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine; Centre for Global Mental Health, London, UK
3 MD, MPH, Public Health Section, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Geneva, Switzerland
4 PhD, MPH, Department of Mental Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, Maryland, USA

Correspondence Address:
Peter Ventevogel,
Public Health Section, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Rue de Montbrillant 94, 1202 Geneva
Switzerland
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/INTV.INTV_66_18

The Refugee Health Information System (RHIS) for humanitarian settings was developed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in 2004. As of 2009, it contained seven categories related to mental, neurological and substance use (MNS) conditions: epilepsy/seizure, alcohol/substance use disorder, mental retardation/intellectual disability, psychotic disorder, severe emotional disorder, medically unexplained somatic complaint and other psychological complaint. During a recent overhaul of the RHIS, the MNS categories were revisited. This article describes the revision process and provides insights into how and why changes were made. Two rounds of consultations involving 34 expert reviewers in humanitarian mental health led to nine case definitions for MNS conditions in the new integrated RHIS (iRHIS): epilepsy/seizure, alcohol/substance use disorder; intellectual disability/developmental disorder; psychotic disorder (including mania); delirium/dementia; depression or other emotional disorder; other emotional complaint; medically unexplained somatic complaint; and self-harm/suicide. The use of additional specifiers enables dedicated mental health professionals in humanitarian settings to document a more refined diagnosis with a total of 22 different categories that made the system compatible with the modules of the Mental Health Gap Action Programme, without additional complexity. Key implications for practice
  • The new iRHIS contains nine broad categories for MNS problems, reflecting consensus among humanitarian mental health practitioners.
  • iRHIS allows health workers in refugee settings to more accurately classify patients with MNS problems.
  • Specialized mental health workers in refugee settings can use additional specifiers in iRHIS to categorise their patients more precisely.


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