Suicide Prevention for Local Public and Volunteer Relief Workers in Disaster-Affected Areas

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Local workforces play a critical role in disaster relief and reconstruction. However, the mental health of local relief workers might be affected by disasters, threatening the sustainability of local workforces. In this study, we tried to address this concern by investigating the well-being of local relief workers and its association with suicidal ideation.


A retrospective study was conducted. Surveys were designed to collect data from a purposive sample of local disaster relief workers who survived a disaster. Binary logistic regression analysis was performed to test hypotheses.

Setting and Participants:

The study sample was from a population of local relief workers in the worst quake-hit regions in China in 2008. The respondents were local relief workers from a town in these regions. All of the 83 local relief workers were invited 11 months after the earthquake, and 70 joined the study, resulting in a response rate of 84.3%.

Main Outcome Measures:

The dependent variable was postdisaster suicidal ideation. The independent variables were bereavement, depression and posttraumatic stress, daily work hours, job burnout, work-family conflict, and work engagement.


Approximately 21.4% of participants reported suicidal ideation after the earthquake in comparison with 7.1% before the earthquake. One potential risk factor was an interaction effect of job burnout and work-family conflict (odds ratio [OR] = 3.738; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.086-12.868). Potential protective factors included daily work hours (OR = 0.317; 95% CI, 0.106-0.952) and work engagement (OR = 0.297; 95% CI, 0.091-0.969).


Findings suggest that for local relief workers who are also disaster survivors, meaningful engagement such as participation in disaster relief could be salutary to their mental health, but overwork and interference with personal life could be harmful and increase the risk of suicidal ideation. Discretion is needed in managing local workforces, particularly with long work hours and work-family balance.

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