Blog post by Colin Hung
The next #hcldr tweetchat falls on November 11th 2014 – Remembrance Day/Veterans Day. In honour of that day, this upcoming chat is dedicated to combat medics, international aid workers, healthcare volunteers and all other brave men and women who have served or are currently serving abroad.
Personally, November 11th is more than just the day to remember those that served in the wars we have fought. For me, it is a day to acknowledge and show respect for the men, women and (sadly) children, from EVERY nation who have sacrificed their lives or their well-being to help someone whether in wartime or not.
Sacrifice is a word all too familiar to the families and friends of those who have returned home after being overseas with physical and/or psychological injuries. The list of injuries is very long and includes: loss of limb, hearing loss, blindness, loss of motor control, autoimmune disease, hypertension, anxiety and depression.
In recent years, the problem of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in combat veterans has become a national issue (embarrassment?) in Canada, the United States, Australia, UK and other countries. The ripple effect of PTSD is enormous. It impacts the entire social circle that surrounds the person who is affected.
Kristin and Kaili Stowers, daughters of former US Marine Steve Stowers who suffers from PTSD, had this to say about the impact it has had on their family:
I’ve gotten more nervous, and like with test grades, I’m afraid if I do fail that Dad’s going to harm me in some way or just say something to me. His PTSD was affecting me, I think, the most out of the family. I just got quiet. I isolated myself like he was doing to himself. I snapped at my mom a few times like he did. They finally noticed, and my mom asked me if I wanted help. I now see a therapist along with my sister. Hopefully, we’re going to start getting family therapy.
It is unfair that thousands of families like the Stowers are having to make a double sacrifice – one when their loved ones are first deployed and another when they return home.
Mental health issues like PTSD are not limited to combat veterans coming home from battle zones. Doctors, nurses and other healthcare volunteers who serve as international aid workers also have a high occurrence of PTSD. In his article “Trauma and the Humanitarian Aid Worker”, Robert Muller writes:
It is estimated that there are well over 200,000 paid humanitarian aid workers, along with thousands of volunteers, providing aid across the globe in the form of poverty and disaster relief operations. These people live and work in some of the most hostile and dangerous regions. And that comes at a very high cost to the aid worker’s physical and psychological well-being. Working long hours in high-risk conditions, they make decisions in life-and-death situations that affect many. Struggling with a demand for aid supplies greater than the resources available, aid workers often face great moral challenges that elicit high levels of stress.
The Antares Foundation, an organization dedicated to improving the quality of humanitarian assistance and overseas development, estimates that 30% of aid workers report significant symptoms of PTSD upon returning from assignment. These figures are significantly higher than that of the US military where it is estimated that 11% of the soldiers who served in Afghanistan and 20% of those that served in Iraq suffer from PTSD.
The recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa is a perfect example of the high-stress and incredibly dangerous environment that international aid workers face. Doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers battling Ebola in Africa are not only putting their lives at risk by working with a deadly virus, but they are also at risk from the militants in the communities they are trying to help.
Following the results of their study, the Antares Foundation created a set of guidelines that is recommended for any organization that sends people overseas:
- Create a policy to prevent or mitigate stress
- Screen and assess the capacity to respond and cope
- Prepare and train staff prior to their assignment
- Monitor staff on an ongoing basis
- Provide ongoing support
- Provide crisis support especially in the wake of traumatic incidents
- Provide end-of-assignment support
- Provide post-assignment support
On November 11th let’s remember these “veterans” too – the ones who went overseas and put their lives and well-being on the line to help complete strangers.
Join us Tuesday November 11th at 8:30pm Eastern (for your local time click here) for the weekly #hcldr tweetchat where we will be discussing the following questions:
- T1 Ideas to improve the physical & mental health of international aid workers, soldiers & others returning from overseas?
- T2 What sacrifices do nurses, doctors and others working in healthcare make every day that they should not have to?
- T3 What can organizations and we as individuals do to acknowledge the sacrifices made by those who provide care for others?
- CT Give a shout out or warm thought to someone you’d like to remember on November 11th.
“Managing stress in humanitarian workers: Guidelines for good practice”, Antares Foundation, July 2006, https://www.antaresfoundation.org/guidelines, accessed November 8 2014
“Aid workers and post-traumatic stress disorder”, Rich McEachran, The Guardian, March 3 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2014/mar/03/post-traumantic-stress-disorder-aid-workers, accessed November 8 2014
“Everyday Bravery”, Kelli M Donley, Endonurse.com, June 1 2003, http://www.endonurse.com/articles/2003/06/everyday-bravery.aspx, accessed November 8 2014
“Selfless Acts in Health Care”, Melissa DeCastro, Huffington Post, October 20 2014, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/melissa-decastro/selfless-acts-in-healthca_b_6003416.html, accessed November 8 2014
“Trauma and the Humanitarian Aid Worker”, Robert Muller, Psychology Today, September 6 2013, http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/talking-about-trauma/201309/trauma-and-the-humanitarian-aid-worker, accessed November 8 2014
“Dealing with aid worker burnout”, Ben Cook, The Guardian, February 22 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2013/feb/22/dealing-with-aid-worker-burnout, accessed November 8 2014
“Developing Skills in Veteran-Centered Care: Understanding Where Soldiers Really Come From”, AAMC, June 11 2014, https://www.mededportal.org/publication/9818, accessed November 7 2014
“Mental Illness and Veterans”, National Alliance on Mental Illness, http://www.nami.org/template.cfm?section=mental_illnesses1, accessed November 8 2014
“Behavioral Health Issues Among Afghanistan and Iraq US War Veterans”, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), http://store.samhsa.gov/product/Behavioral-Health-Issues-Among-Afghanistan-and-Iraq-U-S-War-Veterans/SMA12-4670, accessed November 8 2014
“Military children often feel ‘aftershock’ of parent’s PTSD”, Jan Biles, Topeka Capital-Journal, March 29 2014, http://cjonline.com/news/local/2014-03-29/military-children-often-feel-aftershock-parents-ptsd, accessed November 8 2014
“PTSD: A Growing Epidemic”, NIH Medline Plus, 2009, http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/magazine/issues/winter09/articles/winter09pg10-14.html, accessed November 8 2014
Remembrance Day Crosses – Owen Benson