Human Rights Resilience Project

Since 2015, a research team of human rights lawyers and psychologists have been working to document, raise awareness, and develop culturally-sensitive training programs to promote well-being and resilience among human rights workers.  

The Human Rights Resilience Project is an interdisciplinary research initiative co-led by Margaret Satterthwaite in collaboration with Sarah Knuckey and Anjli Parrin of Columbia Law School and Adam Brown and Manaswi Sangraula of The New School.

The project is grounded in the belief that the well-being of human rights activists is essential for sustainable movements.

The project’s initial phase consisted of an online survey of human rights workers based in dozens of countries. An analysis of survey results, published in December 2015, found high rates of adverse mental health impacts among the 346 respondents. Of those studied, 19% appeared to have PTSD, 19% had significant symptoms associated with PTSD, 15% seemed to be experiencing depression, and 19% reported burnout—rates comparable to those found among first responders and combat veterans.

With a grant from Open Society Foundations, the research team is currently mapping the ways in which human rights organizations manage and deal with the chronic stress, vicarious trauma, and trauma associated with the work. The aim is to understand the well-being challenges and opportunities in the human rights field, and the resources and approaches that human rights groups and organizations have found to be useful in protecting the well-being and mental health of their staff and volunteers.

Recommendations to Funders

Improving Mental Health and Wellbeing in the Human Rights Field

Improving and maintaining well-being is essential to individual health, to organizational functioning, and to the sustainability and effectiveness of the human rights field as a whole. There are many concrete, immediately actionable reforms that are achievable in the near-term and which address a variety of causes of distress, or which can support efforts to transform the field over the long term.

Action items

additional resources