Deployment Affects Mental Health of Relief Workers

Significant increase in anxiety, depression; social support linked to lower levels of depression

FRIDAY, Oct. 5 (HealthDay News) -- Humanitarian relief workers have increased levels of anxiety and depression after being deployed, according to a study published online Sept. 12 in PLoS One.

Barbara Lopes Cardozo, M.D., M.P.H., from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, and colleagues surveyed 212 international humanitarian aid workers at 19 nongovernmental organizations regarding their mental health pre- and up to six months post-deployment.

Post-deployment and within three to six months of deployment, 80 percent (169) and 73 percent (154) of participants, respectively, were assessed. Before deployment, the researchers found that 3.8 percent reported anxiety and 10.4 percent reported depression. After deployment, 11.8 percent reported anxiety and 19.5 percent reported depression. Workers with a history of mental illness were more likely to experience anxiety (adjusted odds ratio, 4.2). Increased exposure to chronic stress during deployment was linked to a significantly increased risk of depression and burnout/emotional exhaustion (adjusted odds ratio, 1.1 for both). Social support was associated with reduced depression, psychological distress, and burnout/lack of personal accomplishment, as well as greater life satisfaction.

"When recruiting and preparing aid workers for deployment, organizations should consider history of mental illness and take steps to decrease chronic stressors, and strengthen social support networks," Cardozo and colleagues conclude.

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