79% of 754 respondents to a mental health & wellbeing survey on the Global Development Professional Network have experienced mental health issues. Over 50% said they'd experienced or been diagnosed with anxiety, and 44% with depression. Panic attacks and post-traumatic stress injuries were cited among over 1/5.
93% believe these to be related to aid-industry related work.
"Humanitarians provide a glimpse of the best of humanity in an often violent and distorted world. Yet despite their strength, studies suggest they experience more mental health issues than the average individual. So what accounts for this disparity? And what can be done about it?"
Much more than a list of 'don't this, and stay away from there.'
Good approaches to consider.
"[After collapsing in the field] I took immediate sick leave, but left to my own devices in my room and in the hospital in Juba I just wanted to get out of the whole situation. I also felt an element of shame, afraid of being judged that I “couldn’t handle it.”
In this very fragile state I decided to hand in my notice instead of speaking out and seeking support. I am still coming to terms with what happened, the financial loss and coping with finding a new job.
I wish I had been more honest with the organisation I worked for, demanding better support and making sure that this does not happen to other young idealistic aid workers who put the job first and their wellbeing second."
"The expectation that we can be immersed in suffering and loss and not be touched by it is as unrealistic as expecting to walk through water without getting wet."
"Your goal of giving your best at work, while not neglecting your physical and emotional health, is one that we would all do well to adopt. Of course, the two elements of this goal are two sides of the same coin: you cannot give your best at work if you do not practice self-care. It's simple, but not easy."
"Plenty has been written about how the energy sapping nature of the job can lead to burnout; but not so much on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The lines between the two are blurred."
"A colleague told me he felt isolated after being wounded in an attack a few years ago. There were no messages from senior managers; no acknowledgment of what he had gone through. Human resources advised him not to tell anyone about his depression, and to make sure that his medical certificate was from a GP, not a psychiatrist. Better to be hurt on the outside, where people can see it..."
"Yes, it's true that we become accustomed to working in these environments. In order to be useful we have to be able to function. But rather than growing gradually desensitised, every time it feels a little bit more personal."
"The pain of an evacuation, of leaving behind local colleagues, projects and communities you have come to know and love, burns a hole in your heart...this pain changes your life forever. I would not miss any of my experiences for anything in the world–they have made me who I am. But none of it has been easy."
"When asked to identify the one significant thing they got out of the relationship, participants said they got validation and felt less stressed and isolated. 'It reminded me that people I respect and who share my values also feel the same self-doubts I do,' said one aid worker. 'This has made me stronger and more confident in my work, and in my choices.'"
How to avoid becoming a cynic, disconnected from the communities that justify your existence, and keep the passion that brought you to the sector in the first place.
"Hearing her reflecting on her feelings within the context of this party made me wonder how else aid workers could find ways of relaxing, getting the body moving and sharing, besides drinking alcohol until 5am."
"After seven years of 'field' posts, I finally landed what sounded like a great job in New York. But within weeks I realised that staying in Sudan might have been a wiser option. My working hours were insane and my work environment was toxic. Then after 12 years, five countries and a countless number of sleepless nights, my body gave up. It simply went on strike."
"The reality of leaving is complicated. Aid work is like a drug: the highs get you very high, but the lows can threaten to consume you. Like a drug, too, it is all-consuming, and it is tough to kick the memory of the habit even after you leave it behind."