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Those committed to a career in aid work are most often motivated by a desire to help others and make the world a better place. This altruism is frequently life-long and rooted in core values instilled by family, community, or religious leaders at an early age. Individuals entering aid work often intend to remain their entire career. While this is an inspiring goal, many eventually leave before retirement age because of illness, fatigue or disillusionment, family crisis, growing unsuitability, or physical and/or emotional disability. Even those who remain may find it hard to thrive and maintain their wellbeing for a variety of reasons, such as changes in personal mental health.
The incidence of mental illness among humanitarian aid workers from developed countries is usually estimated to be 22-25%, although a few studies have found it to be > 40%. This is higher than the general population, and diagnoses include those struggling with substance abuse, depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and anxiety. Add to this group individuals recovering from a recent critical incident, local national staff living and working in the midst of a humanitarian emergency, and those chronically over-stressed but not yet experiencing pronounced symptoms, and the result is a fairly large number of aid workers facing emotional problems. This makes an already complex job more difficult, less rewarding, and hard to sustain.
Why is this and what can be done?
There are a number of factors that increase the possibility of eventual emotional distress or disability. Identifying them early helps everyone involved make informed choices and take corrective steps. Here are the factors identified repeatedly in our research and field experience:
What are some next steps to strengthen and maintain your emotional wellbeing? Stayed tuned for PART 2!
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