Factors Affecting Mental Health of Local Staff Working in the Vanni Region, Sri Lanka

Psychol Trauma. 2013 Nov;5(6):581-590. doi: 10.1037/a0030969. Epub 2013 Feb 11.


In the aftermath of the civil war that extended from 1983-2009, humanitarian organizations provided aid to the conflict-affected population of the Vanni region in northern Sri Lanka. In August, 2010, a needs assessment was conducted to determine the mental-health status of Sri Lankan national humanitarian aid staff working in conditions of stress and hardship, and consider contextual and organizational characteristics influencing such status. A total of 398 staff members from nine organizations working in the Vanni area participated in the survey, which assessed stress, work characteristics, social support, coping styles, and symptoms of psychological distress. Exposure to traumatic, chronic, and secondary stressors was common. Nineteen percent of the population met criteria for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), 53% of participants reported elevated anxiety symptoms, and 58% reported elevated depression symptoms. Those reporting high levels of support from their organizations were less likely to suffer depression and PTSD symptoms than those reporting lower levels of staff support (OR =.23, p < .001) and (OR =.26, p < .001), respectively. Participants who were age 55 or older were significantly less likely to suffer anxiety symptoms than those who were between 15 and 34 years of age (OR =.13, p = .011). Having experienced travel difficulties was significantly associated with more anxiety symptoms (OR = 3.35, p < .001). It was recommended that organizations provide stress-management training and increase support to their staff.

Keywords: PTSD; Sri Lanka; depression; humanitarian aid workers; national staff.