19 August 2018

World Humanitarian Day: Don’t overlook the mental health of aid workers

World Humanitarian Day (WHD) is held every year on 19 August to recognise the suffering of millions of civilians caught up in conflict and pay tribute to the work of humanitarian workers. The day brings together partners from across the humanitarian system to advocate for the well-being and dignity of people affected by crises, and for the safety and security of aid workers.


Humanitarian organisations operate in some the most challenging and desperate places on earth – conflict zones; refugee camps; and other places where people struggle to find food, water, and safe shelter. Despite their best efforts to alleviate suffering, humanitarian workers are often prevented from delivering aid and medical help, treated as a threat by elements of the local community, and even targeted with violence.


This environment means humanitarian workers can experience periods of extreme stress and witness traumatic events that can have a profound negative impact on their mental health.


Despite these risks, there is evidence to suggest aid workers and other human rights defenders often find it difficult to talk about their mental and emotional wellbeing. Many prioritise the necessity and importance of their work before thinking about their personal wellbeing. Even when they do have concerns, a culture of self-sacrifice and heroism in the humanitarian sector can inhibit them from expressing these anxieties and seeking help.


On top of this, humanitarian workers may face financial insecurity. They are often employed on short-term contracts, with low wages and a lack of benefits, and sometimes face an expectation that human rights work should be conducted without pay. Some raise money or spend their savings on personal security – such as medical treatment, security equipment, and relocation.


In response to continuing humanitarian crises, MHE has already highlighted the need to support the mental health of migrants and refugees.  On World Humanitarian Day (WHD) we reflect on the importance of ensuring aid workers are supported too. Humanitarian workers should feel free to voice their concerns, without stigma, and be able to access mental health services where they live and work.


To find out more about Work Humanitarian Day visit www.worldhumanitarianday.org.

Stay connected

Get our latest news, personal stories, research articles, and job opportunities.