Impacts of mental health and cash transfer interventions on Syrian refugees and host communities in Lebanon

Research questions

  1. To what extent do mental health issues related to conflict, loss, and displacement impact economic decision-making? More specifically, do mental health issues prevent Syrian refugees from taking advantage of economic opportunities, as provided by refugee support programs?
  2. To what extent do refugee support programs lead to economic spillovers on local host markets? Do they improve social cohesion between refugees and host communities?

Research summary

There are now 65 million refugees and internally displaced people worldwide. Integrating them as productive members of society is one of the most complex challenges of our time. We approach this challenge from two angles: First, the proposed study asks whether mental health issues and conflict-related trauma prevent Syrian refugees in Lebanon from building new economic livelihoods in their host communities. We investigate to what extent a novel, low-cost mental health intervention called Self-Help Plus (SH+), provided by the World Health Organization (WHO), combined with monthly cash transfers offered by World Food Program (WFP), can relieve mental health and economic constraints, increase wellbeing, and improve economic decision-making. A series of artefactual field experiments will help us to understand the mechanisms through which mental health affects economic decision-making, and vice versa. Lessons will be drawn for the delivery of humanitarian aid. Second, the unique setting of 1600 distinct refugee settlements allows us, through clustered randomization, to examine whether and how refugee support programs impact on the local Lebanese economy. Using business surveys, we study localized effects on demand, prices, employment, and new enterprise activity. We hypothesize that there is a “multiplier effect” of humanitarian aid on the local economy. Finally, artefactual field experiments with Syrian and Lebanese participants will examine effects on social preferences and trust between the refugees and their host communities.

We have completed the exploratory, partnership-building phase of this project. Qualitative research has explored the economic opportunities that exist for refugees, and a series of interviews have been conducted. We have created a research design, and are now waiting on funding so that we can begin preparations for on-the-ground work.

CSAE Researchers

Stefan Dercon