During disasters, aid organizations often respond using the resources of local volunteer members from the affected population who are not only inexperienced, but who additionally take on some of the more psychologically and physically difficult tasks in order to provide support for their community. Although not much empirical evidence exists to justify the claim, it is thought that preparation, training, and organizational support limit (or reduce) a volunteer's risk of developing later psychopathology. In this study, we examined the effects of preparation, training, and organizational support and assigned tasks on the mental health of 506 Indonesian Red Cross volunteers who participated in the response to a massive earthquake in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, in 2006. Controlling for exposure level, the volunteers were assessed for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, and subjective health complaints (SHCs) 6, 12, and 18 months post-disaster. Results showed high levels of PTSD and SHCs up to 18 months post-disaster, while anxiety and depression levels remained in the normal range. Higher levels of exposure as well as certain tasks (e.g., provision of psychosocial support to beneficiaries, handling administration, or handing out food aid) made the volunteers more vulnerable. Sense of safety, expressed general need for support at 6 months, and a lack of perceived support from team leaders and the organization were also related to greater psychopathology at 18 months. The results highlight the importance of studying organizational factors. By incorporating these results into future volunteer management programs the negative effects of disaster work on volunteers can be ameliorated.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This study was supported by a grant from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, The Netherlands Red Cross, The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, The Icelandic International Development Agency (ICEDA), The Austrian Red Cross and The French Red Cross. We are indebted to the staff of the Indonesian Red Cross for their support, interest, and precise activity in facilitating the collection of the data.