An Innovative Approach to the Mental Health Needs of Humanitarian Mine Action Personnel

September 17, 2021
The Journal of Conventional Weapons Destruction
Although the precipitants of psychological stress vary between settings, there is a considerable overlap between the responses individuals have to the stress.
Richard G. Tedeschi Ph.D. et al.

In the fields of humanitarian demining and explosive ordnance disposal (EOD), physical traumas related to blast and fragmentation injuries receive a great deal of research attention. In contrast, focus on the psychological health and wellness of humanitarian mine action personnel (HMAP) is lacking. Although research on the incidence of mental health disorders among HMAP is extremely limited, compared with the general population, this group likely suffers more from psychiatric conditions such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety. HMAP work in a high state of hypervigilance because at any given moment in a demining operation, there is risk of death and/or severe maiming. In addition to the inherent risk associated with searching for and working with live unexploded ordnance, deminers are exposed to the constant stress of conflict, which can include shouldering the psychological burden of responsibility for the physical well-being of innocent civilians exposed to explosive devices and witnessing the death and injury of others. Because of the multiple and unique stressors associated with this inherently dangerous work, HMAP likely experience trauma-related mental health conditions at a rate equal to, if not greater than, other high-risk professionals such as military personnel and first-responders (e.g., firefighters, law enforcement, emergency medical technicians). Although estimates vary, rates of PTSD for the latter groups range from 10 percent to over 30 percent depending on the study cited.1,2,3 Therefore, it is critical to identify effective strategies for mitigating the effects of psychological trauma in this high-risk group.

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