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Mental health and aid work?

June 29, 2018

Hi Nick,

I read your blog and need your help with some career advice:

I am interested to work in the humanitarian field but mainly have experience providing education and community services in a stable environment. I am now going on 37 and am thinking of taking up a related Master’s programme to break into the humanitarian field.

The thing is that now I am diagnosed with early schizophrenia. Considering my experiences, age and medical history, I am concerned that even with the Master’s, I may not get a job in the sector.

Greatly appreciate your advice,

Thank you.


Dear SJ,

Thanks for your question. There are a couple of things in there, and I will deal with them one by one.

I don’t think being 37 is a big deal. The reason that aid workers in field jobs skew younger is largely self-selection. If agencies could get people with more experience and judgement under their belt they would. One of the best emergency finance officers I ever worked with was 76 at the time. I wouldn’t worry about that.

Health issues. So – my experience is largely with US and EU based organizations, which have similar approaches to this question, but it is possible that this varies by country, so check specifics since you don’t mention where you live. In general, agencies look at whether the person they are hiring can do the job in question. In the US it is illegal for them to discriminate based on medical condition unless the medical condition prevents the person from being able to do the job. If your health condition is controlled by medication or whatever other means, and is not going to prevent you from being able to conduct the duties, I would say don’t worry about it. I’ve worked with colleagues with serious heart conditions, people who are confined to wheelchairs, and folks with other serious but managed health conditions. For most people it’s not a big deal.

That said – you should examine whether you think your condition is compatible with a particular posting. What do you need? Regular access to psychiatric care? A regular supply of medication? Whatever it is – just check that it is available in the location you’re looking at, and make sure you continue to manage your health.

The Master’s degree won’t hurt for sure, but the thing that worries me about your question is your lack of field experience – that’s the potential deal breaker for an employer that you’re going to have to work on.

Good luck!


One Comment leave one →
  1. August 7, 2018 3:07 am

    Detailed response.
    Thank you Nick! It is very informative!

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