“Exhausted, stressed and inadequately supported staff cannot do their jobs effectively.
They may want, and try, to tough it out, but in the final analysis, everybody is damaged.”

Kofi Annan

Around 79% of humanitarian relief workers report suffering from anxiety, depression, panic attacks, and other mental health issues

The Guardian, 2015

Up to 30% of humanitarians suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) upon returning from their assignment

Center for Disease Control & Prevention

Around 50% of national humanitarian staff show clinically significant levels of anxiety and depression

Antares Foundation and the Center for Disease Control, 2012


A career as a humanitarian aid worker is inherently stressful. Some of the key sources of stress involved in the work include:

  • Long hours and an expectation to be on call 24/7
  • Operating in highly insecure environments, with limited mobility, physical confinement to a compound and ever present security threats
  • Organisational issues such as insecure contracts, poor management practices, inadequate salaries and lack of support for staff wellbeing
  • Lack of resources to meet all the needs of the suffering population

​National staff working in their own country face additional stressors; they are often directly working with their own communities and so more exposed to the trauma of the population in need. In addition, these staff often have the most insecure contracts and lack access to relevant and timely support, which is most often tailored to their international counterparts.


The failure to adequately prepare and support the mental health and wellbeing of humanitarian staff has negative consequences at multiple levels:


  • Suffer from chronic stress, causing them to perform under their potential
  • Many humanitarians experience burnout and leave their job earlier


  • Higher costs for insurance, medical care and recruitment costs due to high turnover
  • Loss of institutional knowledge
  • Damaged organisational reputation


  • Receive a lower quality of care and support delivered by overworked and under supported humanitarian staff.

stories from the field

“I used to think that I was kind of hardened to suffering and misery. You learn to deal with it and hold it at bay while you are working. It’s when you’re alone that it creeps up on you.”

  Paul E. Ares

“The work we do is important, but there are never enough resources to help those in need. I feel stressed and exhausted from this pressure, and my health is beginning to suffer.” 

Amal, Jordan


The CBR Project is the signature programme under Garrison Institute International, which manages Garrison's non-US based programmes.

For CBR programming in the USA, please visit the Garrison Institute USA website.


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