Humanitarian workers are exposed to numerous psycho-social risks (PSR) due to the nature of their work and the stressful environments in which they operate.
What psycho-social risks can humanitarian workers face ?
Employees of international humanitarian organisations (NGOs) can be exposed to a variety of situations:
Traumatic stress: Humanitarian workers are often confronted with situations of violence, armed conflict, natural disasters and other traumatic events which can affect their mental and emotional health.
Burn out: Humanitarians are often faced with extremely high workloads, difficult living conditions and pressure to meet deadlines and budgets. All this can lead to burn out, which is characterised by physical and mental fatigue, loss of motivation and emotional disengagement.
Anxiety and depressive disorders: Humanitarians can experience considerable emotional stress and uncertainty about their own safety and that of the people they are helping. This can lead to anxiety and depressive disorders, which can affect their ability to function effectively.
Post-traumatic stress disorder: Humanitarians who are exposed to traumatic events can develop post-traumatic stress disorder, which is characterised by flashbacks, nightmares and avoidance of stimuli associated with the traumatic event.
Social isolation: Intervention areas are often remote and isolated regions where teams can feel lonely and isolated, which can have negative effects on their mental health.
Harassment: Sexual harassment, moral harassment and discriminatory harassment can also be psycho-social risks for human resources.
Emotional pressure: Humanitarians may be faced with emotionally difficult situations, such as the death of a colleague or beneficiary, or situations where they have to make difficult decisions in a short space of time. This emotional pressure can be very trying.
How can these risks be prevented ?
There are no ready-made solutions for combating psychosocial risks; from one NGO to another, from one work situation to another, the PSR factors are different. Solutions must therefore be found for each NGO, after an in-depth assessment or diagnosis of the PSR factors specific to it. Priority should be given to a collective prevention approach, focusing on work and its organisation.
Concrete measures can be taken to prevent these risks. Each NGO will adapt them to its own organisation and teams.
Training and awareness-raising: It is essential to provide humanitarians with adequate training on the psycho-social risks they may face and on stress management strategies. This will enable them to identify the early signs of psychological problems and take appropriate action.
Psychological support: Humanitarian organisations should set up psychological support programmes accessible to aid workers. This can include counselling services, support groups, debriefing sessions after traumatic events, and the availability of a psychologist or mental health professional on site. This support can be included in a health insurance or repatriation assistance programme for NGOs.
Stress management: Humanitarians need to be trained in stress management and the use of effective coping techniques. This may include strategies such as relaxation, meditation, physical exercise, time management and taking regular breaks.
Work-life balance: finding a good balance between work and personal life: this can include leave policies, staff rotas to allow for rest periods, and leisure or relaxation activities on site.
Communication and social support: Encouraging open communication and social support between human resources can help reduce psycho-social risks. It is important to create an environment where teams feel comfortable sharing their emotions, difficulties and experiences with colleagues.
Cultural diversity awareness: Humanitarians often interact with people from different cultures. Awareness of cultural diversity and training in intercultural communication can help prevent conflicts and improve relations with beneficiaries and local colleagues.
Risk assessment: Humanitarian organisations should carry out regular assessments of the psycho-social risks faced by their workers, identifying the stress factors specific to their field of intervention. This will enable appropriate prevention and intervention measures to be put in place.
Follow-up and support after return: Humanitarians should receive appropriate follow-up and support after returning from a mission. This may include debriefing sessions, mental health assessments and resources available to help them reintegrate into their daily lives. Ideally, an experienced psychologist with knowledge of the humanitarian world will conduct these sessions.
By implementing these preventive measures, humanitarian organisations can help to reduce psycho-social risks and promote the well-being of humanitarian workers. This applies not only to international teams, but also to local teams who, like expatriates, are waiting for concrete resources.
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