Humanitarian workers in South Sudan: Mental health, gender, and organizational staff support
This study focused on humanitarian workers in South Sudan and the interrelation of mental health, gender, and organizational staff support. Based on the propositions of Job Demands- Resources (JDR) theory, I applied mixed methods research in three research phases to 1) investigate prevalence and predictors of common mental health problems among national and international humanitarian workers; 2) examine international humanitarian workers’ lived experiences, particularly with respect to gender; and 3) crystallize implications of these findings for humanitarian stakeholders, particularly with respect to organizational staff support. The survey phase estimated prevalence rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (24%), depression (39%), anxiety disorder (38%), hazardous alcohol consumption in men (35%) and women (36%), and the burnout components emotional exhaustion (24%) and depersonalization (19%). Chronic stress was most consistently associated with mental health problems. Dysfunctional coping predicted mental health problems among humanitarian workers, but emotion-focused and problem-focused coping were neither protective nor predictive of the outcomes studied. Surprisingly, gender was significantly associated with anxiety only, with women being more likely to experience symptoms associated with anxiety diagnosis. However, the focused qualitative phase indicated that gender substantially influenced international humanitarian workers’ lived experiences. Men perceived Juba as a convenient duty station. Women experienced a feeling of loneliness on site, and considered it challenging to combine their profession with family life. There was a gap between international humanitarian workers’ needs for psychosocial support, and the attention paid to these needs by themselves and their organizations. The evaluation phase showed that organizational staff support provided by NGOs was insufficient to address employees’ needs. As expected, national staff had less access to services than international staff, and organizations neglected gender in their staff support programs. This study provides tailored recommendations to address the identified challenges and gaps in staff support. It demonstrates that a more nuanced version of JDR theory is required to be applicable to humanitarian settings.