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Year : 2022  |  Volume : 20  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 151-160

Mental Health and Perceived Social Support of Humanitarian Workers in Bangladesh During the COVID-19 Pandemic

1 Assistant Protection Officer, Community Based Protection Unit, UNHCR, Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh
2 Associate Professor, School of Psychiatry, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
3 Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) Officer, MHPSS Unit, UNHCR, Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh
4 Senior Staff Welfare Officer, UNHCR Regional Bureau for Asia and Pacific, Bangkok, Thailand
5 Senior Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Officer, Public Health Section, Division of Resilience and Solutions, UNHCR, Geneva, Switzerland

Correspondence Address:
MPhil Tahmina Parvin
Assistant Community Based Protection Officer and Peer Advisor, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR); Sub-Office, Motel Road, Kolatoli, Cox’s Bazar
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/intv.intv_18_21

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Humanitarian workers are at risk of experiencing emotional distress and mental health problems. The COVID-19 pandemic created additional stress and challenges for staff in ongoing emergencies who had to continue delivering humanitarian assistance. The primary objective of this study was to assess the mental health status of humanitarian staff working in the Rohingya refugee operation in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, amid the COVID-19 pandemic. A sample of 307 national and international humanitarian staff working in person or remotely within the Rohingya refugee operation in Cox’s Bazar anonymously completed an online questionnaire. Outcome measures included 1) the WHO-UNHCR Assessment Schedule of Serious Symptoms in Humanitarian Settings which measures six symptoms related to mental health problems, 2) the Perceived Social Support Questionnaire and 3) questions about help-seeking. The self-reported mental health burden among humanitarian workers was high. The result demonstrates that most participants felt so afraid and severely upset about the emergency/COVID-19 pandemic that they avoided people or places. One in three respondents felt so angry that they were unable to carry out essential activities at least some of the time. Significant differences between national and international staff were found, with national staff more likely than international staff to feel afraid, angry, hopeless and unable to carry out essential activities (all P-values < 0.05). Nearly three out of 10 humanitarian workers reported a lack of social support. Less than one in five had sought professional help, while around half of all respondents indicated that they would want mental health support. The need for mental health support for humanitarian staff in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, during the COVID-19 pandemic was high. It is important to strengthen strategies to proactively make services for mental health support available and accessible to humanitarians, building upon existing structures and allocating appropriate resources.

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