Humanitarian aid workers are routinely exposed to traumatic events linked to the cause of mental health issues including depression, burnout and anxiety. But increasingly, work stress including extremely heavy workloads, long hours and limited time for self-care are being highlighted as major causes. Among volunteers, mental health issues can be even higher (Dineson, 2018). Often from affected communities, volunteers experience the same loss and grief as those they are working to support but without the same training, support or structure as professional workers.
At the global level, there is now increasing recognition of the importance of ensuring the well-being and safety of humanitarian workers and volunteers. However, too often the appropriate support and care systems are not in place, especially for national or local staff. A recent study found that only 20% of aid workers surveyed felt adequate psychosocial support was being offered (Dunkley, 2018). The prevailing culture of silence, feelings of guilt and perceived stigma around mental health, leads many to continue working without seeking treatment. To reduce stress, burnout and to promote the well-being of workers and volunteers, simple and cost-effective initiatives can be put in place before, during and after deployment.
To mark World Humanitarian Day on 19 August, ODI convenes an expert panel to discuss breaking the silence and promoting action on mental health affecting aid workers and volunteers. Specifically, the panel discuss:
• What are the main sources of stress for aid workers in crisis contexts? Are they preventable? • How do aid workers themselves cope with stress? • What progress has been made on supporting aid worker mental health? • Who is at the forefront of providing stellar support for mental health? What can others do to match this level of care?
Chair Christina Bennett @cr_bennett - Head, Humanitarian Policy Group, ODI
Speakers Christine Williamson @dutyofcareint - Director, Duty of Care International Cecilie Dinesen @ceciliedinesen - Advisor, Reference Centre for Psychosocial Support, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (via videolink) Michael Bociurkiw @mikeybbq - Global Affairs Analyst and Former Humanitarian Aid Worker More speakers to be announced