Advocating For Increased Mental Health Support Surrounding Humanitarian Aid Workers

Disasters can bring out the best in humanity. As volunteers rush to help those in need after a catastrophe or weather emergency, they often put their well-being aside for the benefit of others.

These same volunteers not only face second-hand trauma while doing so, but frequently experience demanding work conditions, lack of organizational support and other detriments. All this and more can have serious effects on their mental health. Suffering from mental and emotional issues can, in turn, negatively impact the critical work they are striving to do.

Is adequate support being offered to the humanitarian aid workers many rely on in times of crisis? Unfortunately, the answer is all too often no. Here is a brief look into the mental health impacts aid workers face and a few ways to help improve the current policies and practices in place.

Exposure to traumatic events, safety hazards, working many hours and undergoing chronic stress can have serious impacts on mental health. As a result, humanitarian aid workers habitually see increased rates of anxiety, depression, compassion fatigue, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and beyond. A lack of support from their organization and team leaders is also a contributing factor alongside the elevated risk involved in humanitarian work.

What can be done to help reduce and prevent these high rates of mental health afflictions? Research on humanitarian workers suggests the development of mental distress could be mitigated by improving organizational factors. Such factors include insufficient supervision standards, poor relationships with managers and a deficiency in team support.

Aside from amending these areas, organizations can work to enhance the mental and emotional health training they provide. Along the same lines is presenting clear job descriptions and working hours at the onset. Other progressive approaches could include team-wide debriefings, one-on-one consultations, and pre-event workshops on recognizing symptoms within themselves and their peers. These measures can go a long way in revitalizing a participant’s mental fortitude.

It’s essential these organizations recognize that adopting new policies along with reinforcing a safe environment to discuss concerns openly is necessary. Not only to protect volunteer well-being but to help ensure workers are better equipped to carry out the important responsibilities they have shouldered.

Organizations need to prioritize these points as part of their strategic planning and budgeting going forward. Those that fail to do so may see equivalent time and money spent elsewhere — such as disability claims, formal grievances, and supplementary recruitment and retention measures.

What’s more, aid workers should practice resilience and emotional strengthening behaviors to promote their psychological health. When the load becomes too heavy and resources are not provided, it’s vital to seek professional help. Such undertakings can boost the chances of thriving along this worthy path.

For more information on the importance of improving mental health care among paid and unpaid humanitarian aid workers, please see the accompanying resource.

Guide created by Life for Relief and Development

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