Social and occupational factors associated with psychological distress and disorder among disaster responders: A systematic review

Samantha K. Brooks*, Rebecca Dunn, Richard Amlôt, Neil Greenberg, G. James Rubin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalLiterature reviewpeer-review

114 Citations (Scopus)
311 Downloads (Pure)


Background: When disasters occur, there are many different occupational groups involved in rescue, recovery and support efforts. This study aimed to conduct a systematic literature review to identify social and occupational factors affecting the psychological impact of disasters on responders. Methods: Four electronic literature databases (MEDLINE®, Embase, PsycINFO® and Web of Science) were searched and hand searches of reference lists were carried out. Papers were screened against specific inclusion criteria (e.g. published in peer-reviewed journal in English; included a quantitative measure of wellbeing; participants were disaster responders). Data was extracted from relevant papers and thematic analysis was used to develop a list of key factors affecting the wellbeing of disaster responders. Results: Eighteen thousand five papers were found and 111 included in the review. The psychological impact of disasters on responders appeared associated with pre-disaster factors (occupational factors; specialised training and preparedness; life events and health), during-disaster factors (exposure; duration on site and arrival time; emotional involvement; peri-traumatic distress/dissociation; role-related stressors; perceptions of safety, threat and risk; harm to self or close others; social support; professional support) and post-disaster factors (professional support; impact on life; life events; media; coping strategies). Conclusions: There are steps that can be taken at all stages of a disaster (before, during and after) which may minimise risks to responders and enhance resilience. Preparedness (for the demands of the role and the potential psychological impact) and support (particularly from the organisation) are essential. The findings of this review could potentially be used to develop training workshops for professionals involved in disaster response.

Original languageEnglish
Article number18
JournalBMC Psychology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 26 Apr 2016


  • Disaster response
  • Disasters
  • Psychological impact
  • Systematic review
  • Wellbeing


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