Parallel to the dangers and stress of working in a disaster zone there are also opportunities for experiencing joy and psychosocial health benefits. The work in itself can be in line with the five principles for trauma intervention:
Coping with extreme and unpredictable challenges leads to increased self-confidence and a sense of achievement (no. 3). This can foster a sense of “If I can do this, I can do anything”. Being able to make a difference in a chaotic disaster zone can strengthen one’s self-esteem. In addition, focused activity and meaningful tasks are protective against subsequent stress reactions. People who have “something to do” in a disaster generally cope better in the long run compared to inactive bystanders.
There are no “the others” – it is only us.
The title of the book by Lindis Hurum (Médecins Sans Frontières).
Working in a disaster zone can create a unique sense of community and solidarity (no. 4). It can bring about deep recognition of a shared humanity within the disaster zone. The defeats, victories, observations and experiences of the team are difficult for those outside to understand. New friendships can form based on common values and experiences. Personnel may also experience increased empathy, feel closer to family and friends and value relationships higher than before.
When it comes to hope and a sense of existential meaning (no.5), experience from disaster zones can go both ways. Crises can bring out the best and the worst in people. Seeing others bring out their best may strengthen “faith in humanity”. It is not unusual to feel “enriched”, have intense experiences of both happiness and sorrow and appreciate life more after returning home. The increase in hope and meaning, however, requires personnel to maintain faith in their work being worthwhile.