Rising mental health issues among humanitarian workers

Post-graduates from King’s College London, Laura Samira Naude and Esther ten Zitjhoff, left Britain and headed to Greece’s refugee camps. Armed with compassion and educational books in Arabic, English and Farsi, the duo travelled from camp to camp in their library on wheels, attempting to bring the hope and resources to the refugees as they prepared for their future in Europe. But as winter came, facing the many pressure that all NGOs in Greece face, Laura and Esther began to lose hope themselves: “Everything you try and do is met with obstacles, we didn’t have a huge support group and so after a while we just couldn’t cope, physically or mentally”.

Aid workers and volunteers in the humanitarian sector face traumatizing situations that have been proven to cause them to experience anxiety, burnout, secondary traumatic stress, depression or PTSD, explains Matthew Saltmarsh, spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

A report conducted by the Antares foundation in 2013, found that 30% of aid workers had experienced PTSD, compared to 11% of US veterans who participated in the war in Afghanistan according to the US Department of Veterans Affairs.

Brendan McDonald, former aid worker at the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), recalls how when asking his staff councilor for advice after a particularly traumatic experience in Syria, he was only sent a pamphlet on yoga. At the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit, McDonald, along with other colleagues, attempted to petition the summit, calling on the UN to “prioritize staff well-being”. He said, “I was told by UNOCHA senior management not to pursue the matter; it was basically not seen as an issue”.

[AFP]

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