The role of aid workers has long been discussed, but not so much the effects of humanitarian aid on the workers themselves, at least from an academic point of view. New research published in PLOS ONE tries to fill the gap, raising a series of questions regarding distress, anxiety, depression and burnout before and after humanitarian aid work.
The researchers, led by Barbara Lopes Cardozo from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), surveyed 212 aid workers at 19 NGOs, at pre-deployment, immediately after deployment and 3 to 6 months post-deployment. The results showed that rates of anxiety and depression increased significantly (anxiety from 3.8% to 11.8% and then down to 7.8%; depression from 10.4% to 19.5% to 20.1%).
The findings led to a series of conclusions regarding ‘what humanitarian organizations can do to diminish the risk for experiencing mental illness or burnout during deployment,’ as written in the study. The recommendations are the following:
- Screen candidates for a history of mental illness and family risk factors pre-deployment and provide expatriate employees psychological support during deployment and after the assignment is completed. (…).
- Staff should be informed that a history of mental illness and family risk factors may create increased risk for psychological distress during deployment.
- Provide the best possible living accommodations, workspace, and reliable transportation.
- Ensure, when possible, a reasonable workload, adequate management, and recognition for achievements.
- Encourage involvement in social support and peer networks.
- Institute liberal telephone and Internet use policies, paid by the organization will help increase social support networks of deployed staff.
The researchers, however, suspect that the NGOs that accepted to be included in the study are those with better conditions, as many others refused to take part in it.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Lopes Cardozo B, Gotway Crawford C, Eriksson C, Zhu J, Sabin M, Ager A, Foy D, Snider L, Scholte W, Kaiser R, Olff M, Rijnen B, & Simon W (2012). Psychological Distress, Depression, Anxiety, and Burnout among International Humanitarian Aid Workers: A Longitudinal Study. PloS one, 7 (9) PMID: 22984592