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The Mental Health Impact of Volunteering in a Disaster Setting: A Review

Thormar, Sigridur Bjork MSc*; Gersons, Berthold Paul Rudolf MD, PhD; Juen, Barbara PhD; Marschang, Adelheid MD§; Djakababa, Maria Nelden MA*; Olff, Miranda PhD*

The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease: August 2010 - Volume 198 - Issue 8 - p 529-538
doi: 10.1097/NMD.0b013e3181ea1fa9
Review Article
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This article reviews the literature on mental health of volunteers after working in disasters. When mobilized they often are a community's major source for rescue and recovery. PsychINFO, PubMED, and Web of Science were searched for relevant articles published until October 2009. Of 448 articles screened, only 9 articles fulfilled our inclusion criteria. They examined the aftermath of earthquakes (4 articles), terrorist bombings (1), explosions (1), aviation disasters (1), tsunami (1), and a bus accident (1).

Findings showed that, compared with professional workers, volunteers tend to have higher complaint levels. The following factors were found to contribute to mental health complaints of volunteers: Identification with victims as a friend, severity of exposure to gruesome events during disaster work, anxiety sensitivity, and lack of postdisaster social support. The review reveals the need for more research regarding predictors of stress in volunteers.

*Department of Psychiatry, Center for Psychological Trauma, Academic Medical Center, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands; †Department of Psychiatry, Academic Medical Center, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands; ‡Department of Psychology, University of Innsbruck, Austrian Red Cross, Innrain, Innsbruck, Austria; and §The Triangle Group, Public Health in Humanitarian Settings, Geneva, Switzerland.

Send reprint requests to Sigridur B. Thormar, MSc, Department of Psychiatry, Center for Psychological Trauma, Academic Medical Center, University of Amsterdam, Meibergdreef 5, 1105 AZ Amsterdam, The Netherlands. E-mail: s.b.thormar@amc.uva.nl or sirry.bjork@gmail.com.

© 2010 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.