Humanitarian Aid and Mental Health


Natural disasters may be devastating for all involved, but they bring out the need for humanity to come together. As volunteers rush to aid those affected by catastrophe, they set their well-being aside for the health and safety of others.

Volunteers not only deal with second-hand trauma during these events, but often suffer through taxing work conditions and lack of organizational support in their line of work. Due to this, mental health often takes a backseat. As a result, these mental and emotional issues can find themselves making their way into your work life.

Unfortunately, there is not enough adequate support being offered in the necessary industry that is humanitarian aid. Exposure to traumatic events, safety hazards, long hours and chronic stress all negatively affect mental health. It’s not uncommon for humanitarian aid workers to experience increased anxiety, depression, compassion fatigue, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and more.

What can be done to minimize the effect of negative mental health? Improving organizational factors could curb the onset of mental anguish. Improving subpar supervision standards, poor manager relationships and an unsupportive team could do wonders for mental health.

In turn, organizations should improve their mental and emotional health training. Clear job descriptions and working hours at the onset of a schedule could dramatically improve morale. Other innovative approaches could include team debriefings, personal meetings, and mental health workshops aimed at recognizing symptoms within themselves and their team.

Implementing new policies as well as reinforcing a safe environment to voice concerns is paramount. Volunteer well-being is important for workers to be appropriately equipped to perform the duties that are required of them. Organizations need to make these issues a part of their strategic planning and budgeting in the future. Those who don’t may see an equal or greater amount of time and money spent on disability claims, formal complaints, retention efforts, and recruitment.

In closing, aid workers should implement resilience and emotional strength practices into their routine to get a jump on maintaining their mental health. When the workload becomes too taxing and adequate resources unavailable, it’s important to seek professional help as soon as possible.

For more information on the how to improve mental health in the humanitarian aid space, please see the accompanying guide.

Guide created by Life for Relief and Development

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