Stress-related conditions such as burnout and post-traumatic stress disorder are a growing concern in the humanitarian sector. Aid workers themselves report not only that mental health problems are common, but that the support they receive from their employers is insufficient. Problematically, the experience of the international aid worker – particularly those who are white and from the global North – is often foregrounded in explaining what constitutes stress and related mental health problems. This indicates a wider problem of what is required of ‘the perfect humanitarian’ – a personality that is gendered and racialised – and how this influences the different experiences and treatment of national and international staff from aid agencies. This article explores the organisational culture and working conditions of humanitarian settings and their impact on the mental health and wellbeing of staff. It argues that there is a structural dimension to stress that is less to do with external security threats and more to do with the specific infrastructure, policies, and practices of humanitarian operations, with implications for aid workers which cut across dimensions of race, gender, and nationality.
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