A new study found humanitarian aid workers are at greater risk of developing anxiety and depression, both while in the field and after returning home.
Funded by Netherlands-based Antares Foundation, the study was conducted by researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and collaborators, including Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.
According to the findings, of the 212 international humanitarian aid workers surveyed, almost 4 percent had symptoms of anxiety and more than 10% had symptoms of depression before deployment. After completing deployment, nearly 12 percent had anxiety and about 19 percent had depression. The participants at 19 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were also assessed within 3–6 months after deployment, and while the rate of anxiety declined to less than 8 percent, an increased in the rate of depression had been observed by up to over 20 percent.
“It is quite common for people returning from deployment to be overwhelmed by the comforts and choices available, but unable to discuss their feelings with friends and family,” said Alastair Ager, PhD, study co-author and Professor of Clinical Population & Family Health at the Mailman School, in a ScienceDaily.com report.
The research, though, had noted that there are several things humanitarian organizations can do to diminish the risk for experiencing mental illness or burnout during deployment; such as screen candidates for a history of mental illness; provide humanitarian workers with best possible living accommodations, workspace, and reliable transportation; and encourage workers’ involvement in social support and peer networks.