Mental Health for Humanitarian Workers

RefugePoint staff and Experts in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh

By: Dr. Sonasha Braxton, Senior Technical Advisor for Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) at RefugePoint


Research has shown that humanitarian workers experience higher rates of anxiety, depression, and trauma symptoms than the general population. 

We can logically deduce that this is because humanitarian workers are often placed in highly stressful situations in places that are far from home, from loved ones, support networks, and places that are often under-resourced.


Additionally, humanitarian workers often:

  • Face powerful ethical dilemmas
  • Work long hours in difficult living and working conditions
  • Face security risksExperience high levels of pressure and responsibility
  • Are exposed to traumatic material in the stories that they hear and the situations they witness
  • Face the cognitive dissonance of being both powerful and powerless at the same time.


At RefugePoint, we see and encourage all agencies to view mental health and psychosocial support for humanitarian workers as a moral imperative. At RefugePoint, we ensure the following for our staff:

  • Pre-deployment preparation by providing basic training in key MHPSS areas 
  • Optional dialogues during and post deployment around stress management, resilience, self-care planning, and support
  • Resources in preparation for transitioning out of the assignment into other environments,
  • Newsletters, podcasts, wellness needs, assessments, opportunities for peer support, and a library of MHPSS resources
  • For clinical support, we partner with an insurance company that provides counseling and has an international employee assistance program that has online tools, articles and offers crisis management and emergency services.


We recommend that our staff and other humanitarian workers do the following to care for their own mental health:

  1. Set boundaries (interpersonal, professional, emotional, material, time)
  2. Set manageable and realistic expectations around work
  3. Take time out during your work day. (Take breaks. Take a walk. Reset.)
  4. Do what gives you joy. If you can’t engage in your favorite hobbies the same way you did before, find creative ways to engage. 
  5. Find your tribe: make healthy connections with colleagues and others in the local community.
  6. Maintain connections with the people whose relationships are important to you.
  7. Maintain healthy eating habits 
  8. Know yourself. Monitor yourself for changes that might require you to seek out support (whether that’s therapy, group sessions or talking with a friend)
  9. Ask for help, whether that’s for a particular work assignment or professional mental health support. 
  10. Remember you’re human. Practice self-compassion. It’s okay to make mistakes. There are a lot of moving parts. Forgive yourself and keep moving forward. 


The Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) guidelines on mental health and psychosocial support in emergency settings clearly state that the provision of support to mitigate the possible psychosocial consequences of work and crisis situations is a moral obligation and responsibility of organizations exposing staff to extremes. We are, of course, always a work in progress, but we take this responsibility seriously and are committed to supporting our staff and their mental health.