Psychological impacts of disaster on rescue workers: A review of the literature

Xiaorong Mao, Wai Man Olivia Fung, Xiuying Hu, Jean Tak Alice Loke Yuen

Research output: Journal article publicationReview articleAcademic researchpeer-review

42 Citations (Scopus)


When a disaster strikes, rescue workers are deployed to the disaster site to provide immediate rescue support to victims. Given the unpredictable and overwhelming nature of disasters, rescue workers are at risk of suffering from negative psychological consequences. The goal of this review is to explore the psychological impact of a disaster on rescue workers. In this paper, a total of 55 articles – one qualitative study, 53 quantitative studies, and one mixed-methods study – were eligible for inclusion. The rescue workers identified in the literature included fire fighters, police officers, military personnel/soldiers, healthcare professionals, and volunteers. The literature revealed that these rescue workers who were deployed to disaster sites might suffer from acute stress disorder (ASD), anxiety and depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other psychological disorders. Generally, of all rescuers and nurses among the healthcare professionals, the unaffiliated volunteers were most susceptible to negative psychological consequences. The findings of this review indicated that rescue workers are at a high risk of experiencing psychological problems after a disaster deployment. Interventions are needed to mitigate negative psychological consequences and foster resilience in rescue workers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)602-617
Number of pages16
JournalInternational Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2018


  • Acute stress disorders
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Disaster rescue workers
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Psychological sequels

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geotechnical Engineering and Engineering Geology
  • Safety Research
  • Geology


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