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The Impact of Anti-Genocide Advocacy on Mental Health

Updated: Oct 11, 2023

By Genocide Watch Staff Member

Those that work in the field of genocide prevention are repeatedly exposed to direct and indirect trauma. Sources of direct trauma include facing physical danger such as attacks, arrests, and intimidation. Indirect trauma can also be experienced through exposure to other people’s trauma. Exposures toward genocidal acts can frequently lead to negative mental health effects that can be felt either immediately or over a period of time. However, the mental health of anti-genocide advocates is something that lacks research and awareness.

The mental health of anti-genocide advocates often goes unnoticed or uncared for by both the advocate themselves and others around them. Reasons for this include lack of education and stigmatization of mental health issues. Some people may even feel unworthy and embarrassed to have mental health issues due to working in such a field. Regardless of how an advocate is helping, from home or in the field, their mental health is important and has validity. Serious mental health issues can arise from being an anti-genocide advocate, especially when they are ignored. The quality of the advocate's work and care is also affected by their mental health. It is therefore potentially harmful to those in need as they are put at risk when an advocate isn’t taking care of their own mental health.

The data surrounding mental health statistics in the field of advocacy are comparable to the statistics seen in first responders and veterans. Joscelyne et al 2015 found that in a survey of human rights advocates, 19% met the criteria for PTSD, 19% more had symptoms associated with PTSD and 15% met the criteria for depression. Despite these statistics, out of the 346 participants survey of human rights advocates, 71% of participants had little to no training in mental health and 75% of participants said they did not receive mental health support from the organizations they worked for.

This study looked at both direct and indirect trauma; some advocates had interviewed survivors and witnesses, and others had witnessed violence. Another study, done in Kosovo, looked at the mental health of expatriate and local human rights workers. The study found those who collected data on human rights demonstrated a similar pattern of an increase in PTSD, depression, and anxiety symptoms. Furthermore, the study found that even looking at data on human rights abuses can increase symptoms of mental health disorders.

While the participants from both studies mentioned above were not exclusively working in the field of genocide prevention, the traumas they were exposed to align closely with what anti-genocide advocates are experiencing in their work. There is clearly a great need for support for human rights advocates, yet there is a stark lack of resources available for advocates to protect and equip themselves for the trauma they are or will experience.

Genocide prevention is hard yet important work but being exposed to constant human suffering will ultimately take a severe mental toll. Denying one’s mental health does not make the problems go away. There are many people in this world that need help, yourself included. Self-help is advocacy.

The views and opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Genocide Watch

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