Caring for the mental health of humanitarian volunteers in traumatic contexts: the importance of organisational support

Kinan Aldamman, Trina Tamrakar, Cecilie Dinesen, Nana Wiedemann, Jamie Murphy, Maj Hansen, Elsheikh Elsiddig Badr, Tracey Reid, Frédérique Vallières

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Citations (Scopus)
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Background: Humanitarian workers operate in traumatic contexts, putting them at an increased risk of adverse mental health outcomes. The quality of the support they receive from their organization, their supervisor, and team members are proposed as determinants of mental illness and well-being, via the stress-appraisal process.

Objective: Grounded in organizational support theory, we sought to understand the relationship between organizational factors, including perceived organizational support, supervisor support, and team support, and indicators of both adverse mental health and mental well-being among humanitarian volunteers. This relationship is hypothesized to be mediated by the perceived psychological stress.

Methods: A sample of 409 humanitarian volunteers from the Sudanese Red Crescent Society completed an online, anonymous, survey comprised of the Perceived Supervision, Perceived Organizational Support, Team Support, and Perceived Psychological Stress scales, as well as the Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Patient Health Questionnaire scales, (GAD-7 and PHQ- 8), and the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Well-being Scale. Study objectives were tested using structural equation modelling (SEM) procedures.

Results: Perceived helplessness (PH) and perceived self-efficacy (PSE), as measures of psychological stress, were both found to fully mediate the relationship between perceived organizational support and mental health outcomes. Perceived organizational support was associated with PSE and inversely with PH. PH was associated with adverse mental health and inversely related to mental well-being. PSE was only associated with mental well-being. Perceived supervision was negatively associated with PSE.

Conclusions: Perceived organizational support is a key determinant of the mental health of humanitarian volunteers, with greater perceived support associated with lower distress symptomology and greater mental well-being. Humanitarian agencies should take actions to improve their internal organization support systems to mitigate the stress associated with working in traumatic contexts. Specifically, more attention should be paid to the organizational support of the volunteers as front-line workers in humanitarian settings.

• Perceived organizational support is associated with both negative and positive aspects of humanitarian volunteers’ mental health.• Perceived psychological stress factors, including perceived helplessness and perceived self-efficacy, mediate the relationship between perceived organizational support and mental health.• Supervision and team support, as key components of managerial systems, are essential contributors to perceived organizational support within the humanitarian sector.• Organizational support theory is a useful framework to understand how organizational factors contribute to the well-being of humanitarian workers, especially volunteers.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1694811
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalEuropean Journal of Psychotraumatology
Issue number1
Early online date3 Dec 2019
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 31 Dec 2019


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