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Symptoms of Mental Health Issues Common In Uganda Aid Workers

Update Date: Feb 03, 2013 03:43 AM EST

A recent study has found symptoms of different mental health issues like stress, depression and burnout common among the humanitarian aid workers in Uganda.

The study was based on the self-reported symptoms and was authored by Alastair Ager, Ph.D., professor of Clinical Population and Family Health and director of the Program in Leadership in Global Health and Humanitarian Systems in Columbia's Mailman School of Public Health. The study was published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress.

This latest research focused on the fact the humanitarian aid workers who worked in northern Uganda are vulnerable due to the nature of their work and the ambience. Similar research previously was targeted at international and expatriate staff, however, the recent study analyzes the aid workers who are native to that area. Especially significant are workers in Gulu, Northern Uganda, as they are open to the maximum amount of chronic and traumatic stress, which is the result of years of conflict between the forces of the Lord resistance Army (LRA) and the government of Uganda.

The researchers did a psychiatric evaluation of 376 Ugandan workers and found that 68 percent of them suffer from depression, 53 percent from anxiety disorders and 26 percent from PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder. The symptoms were higher for female workers when compared to their male counterparts. The study, based on self-reported symptoms, found that between 25 and 50 percent of the workers exhibited symptoms of burnout. Worries about lack of finance, unsure nature of the duration of peace, estrangement from immediate family, and partiality of the expatriate and national stuff all added fuel to the fire.

"While women reported higher levels of distress than men on four of the outcomes, greater risk of poor mental health among women has been indicated by a number of studies in northern Uganda. Although increased exposure to stressors is an inevitable consequence of working in humanitarian contexts, these findings clearly demonstrate that the characteristics of the organizational environment significantly influence the mental health and well-being of staff in such settings," Dr. Ager said in a University news release.

Dr. Ager has also suggested certain measures such as making the telephone or Internet accessible to the humanitarian workers for personal use, discouraging extra long hours and "presenteeism" among the staff, training the managers to honor good work, resolve conflicts, and reviewing the employee welfare programs, among a few.

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