Psychology Department and UNHCR Collaborate

UNHCR Psychology Collaboration

On March 2, 2016, Webster University (Geneva) and the UNHCR released a landmark study on understanding the mental health, well-being and psychological difficulties experienced by humanitarian aid workers in international settings. The Psychology Department of Webster Geneva Campus, along with leading response teams, launched this multi-site investigation in 2012.

The objectives of this longitudinal research project were to understand the nature and extent of workplace morbidity, and its determinants; assess the mental health of workers; and set a baseline upon which to build programs of support. In collaborating with UNHCR, and more specifically Dubravka Suzic, Chief of Staff Welfare, Webster University was given access to a wealth of experience within the humanitarian sector, while it was able to bring research techniques, survey instruments, statistical analyses and theoretical models to the partnership. This collaboration allowed for a co-authored organizational report: “Staff Well-being and Mental Health in UNHCR” and academic publications are to follow shortly. Data from close to 2,500 UNHCR and affiliated staff was collected during an online survey available for 2 months.

In her opening comments at the presentation of the study, UNHCR’s Deputy High Commissioner Kelly T. Clements said: “We owe it to the women and men who are on the front lines of caring for millions of forcibly displaced in the world today to ensure their mental well-being.”

Dr. Roslyn Thomas, Associate Professor and Head of Psychology, Sociology and Professional Counseling programs at Webster University led the academic investigation with the support and authorship of faculty members Liza Jachens and Dr. Loredana Mihalca. Dr. Thomas’s team is currently conducting similar studies at other UN and non-governmental organizations based in the Geneva region. As with the report co-authored with the UNHCR, the objective is to assess and address the psychological well-being challenges that humanitarian workers face at headquarters and in the field. Regarding this on-going research, Dr. Thomas says: “This collaborative research makes a timely contribution to our understanding of the multiple stressors—high risk contexts of complex emergencies—affecting humanitarian practitioners working at the UNHCR. Organizations such as the UNHCR can use this report to plan effective responses of support for their employees as they manage their careers in caring for populations living in extremis.”

In the above picture from left to right: Liza Jachens and Dr. Roslyn Thomas of Webster University Geneva, Dubravka Suzic of the UNHCR.