Mental Health in the World of Humanitarian Aid

Natural disasters leave devastation in their wake, but they bring out the humanity in others to come to the aid of those affected. As volunteers aid the needy, they set aside their physical and mental health for others’ well-being. Volunteers experience second-hand trauma in their line of work and often work through taxing conditions and a lack of organizational support. In turn, mental health is commonly shelved in the back of their minds.

The sad truth is that there is not enough appropriate support available to those associated with humanitarian aid. Traumatic experiences, dangerous conditions, long hours and chronic stress all impact mental health negatively. Humanitarian aid workers are more inclined to suffer from increased anxiety, depression, compassion fatigue, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

How can the world of humanitarian aid be better equipped for dealing with these negative mental health effects? Bolstering organizational factors is one way to mitigate the onset of mental stress. Boosting areas such as inadequate supervision standards, poor staff relations and an uncooperative team could prove to be the key to success.

Organizations should also take the time to bolster their mental and emotional health training. Providing clear job descriptions as well as working hours at the onset of a schedule could do wonders for one’s sanity. Other innovative methods consist of team debriefings, one-on-one meetings, and mental health workshops directed at recognizing symptoms within themselves and their staff.

Reinforcing a safe environment to voice concerns is one of many policies that could be updated to benefit the team. To act out the duties their required duties, workers must be readily equipped with the right tools. Organizations must prioritize these issues as part of their strategic planning and budgeting for the future. If not, organizations may see an equal or greater amount of time and money lost towards  disability claims, complaints, recruitment, and retention.

Aid workers should stress resilience and emotional strength as part of their routine to get a head start on maintaining their mental health. When the workload becomes overwhelming and the appropriate resources aren’t available, it’s paramount to seek out professional help as soon as you can.

For more information on the how to improve mental health in the humanitarian world, please see the accompanying resource.

Guide created by Life for Relief and Development, specialists in humanitarian services