Having someone to love, close relationships and a stable family situation is protective against trauma and burnout. Family and friends make you both flexible and strong. They give you something to live for when the world around you seems meaningless. But what do they need?

  • Let the family participate in the decision to deploy
  • Provide children with simple and correct information to avoid them overestimating the risks and dangers of the mission
  • Make a plan for how to communicate while apart
  • Solve conflicts before departure
  • Have the “what if” conversation with your loved ones
  • Make a plan for how your family can receive support while you’re away
  • Gather information about the organisation’s support services for families
  • Take out insurance and write a will
  • When returning home, discuss with your children how they coped with your absence
  • Discuss your experiences with family and friends, but avoid the gruesome details
  • Use colleagues and professional support to process experiences from the mission
  • Stay home for a while before the next deployment

The most important source of emotional support for humanitarian personnel is family, friends and colleagues. Informal psychosocial support counteracts burnout and protects after traumatic incidents. This means that personnel with partners, family and close friends start the mission with a strong and natural protection that doesn’t cost the organisation time or money. However, the family, and especially the children, may be paying most of this cost. There is little knowledge about the vulnerability of the families of personnel working for humanitarian organisations. Systems and routines for family support are often underdeveloped, which is a weakness of voluntary organisations.