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New survey examines mental health risks for UNHCR staff

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New survey examines mental health risks for UNHCR staff

UNHCR and Webster University report highlights risks of anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, secondary stress and burn-out among staff.
11 March 2016
A UNHCR official greets people arriving by buses at a transit centre at Opatovac, Croatia, September 2015.

GENEVA, March 11 (UNHCR) - A landmark survey released this week finds that UNHCR humanitarian workers are exposed to mental health risks due to the nature of their work.

The "Staff Well-being and Mental Health in UNHCR" survey, a collaborative research initiative between UNHCR and Webster University Geneva, focuses on the prevalence of risks for anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, secondary stress and burn-out among staff of the UN Refugee Agency.

The study, the first of its kind for UNHCR, indicates that UNHCR staff who work directly with people of concern are at risk for secondary traumatic stress and that mental health concerns could be principally explained by exposure during work to a number of psychosocial hazards.

"Within the humanitarian world, where the challenges to one's coping mechanisms are many, the mental health of aid workers is increasingly under pressure," said UNHCR's Deputy High Commissioner Kelly T. Clements.

"We owe it to the women and men who are on the front lines of caring for millions of forcibly displaced in the world today to ensure their mental well-being."

Close to 2,500 UNHCR and affiliated staff took part in the survey. Similar research is being conducted in other UN organizations. These, and the UNHCR survey, will help major humanitarian organizations to develop programmes of support.

Since 2012, humanitarian, international organizations and academics have called for an understanding of the psychological difficulties experienced by humanitarians working in international settings.

The Psychology Department of Webster University Geneva, under the leadership of Dr. Roslyn Thomas and Researcher Liza Jachens, along with leading response teams, embarked on this global investigation.

The data in the survey underlines the need to make psychological support proactive. UNHCR's Staff Health and Welfare Service already has a number of programmes that address some of the concerns raised in the survey, and further measures are foreseen to reduce work-related stress and support staff working directly with people of concern. UNHCR will prioritize psychosocial support and interventions for staff serving in high-risk environments and emergency operations.

To read the report, please click on this link.