“I suffer from anxiety; it intensifies even more while working.”; “I can no longer provide services to the beneficiaries that I intended to provide with all my heart.”-  wrote human rights defenders in the Human Rights House’s survey regarding their psycho-emotional state.

Professional burnout is the most common challenge among employees in the field, where regular communication, emotional empathy, and exceptional responsibility are required constantly.

The daily activities of human rights defenders are accompanied by perpetual stress. Fighting for justice demands physical resilience, emotional readiness, quick responsiveness to problems, constant communication, caring for others, solidarity, and empathy. At such times, human rights defenders often face “professional burnout” that affects not only their psycho-emotional state but also the quality of their work.

The Center for Psychosocial and Medical Rehabilitation of Torture Victims (GCRT), a member organization of Tbilisi House, assists human rights defenders and activists regarding their psycho-social well-being. The executive director of GCRT, psychologist Lela Tsiskarishvili, informs that human rights defenders often prioritize their work and do not take time for themselves. Due to the specifics of their job, they have increased contact with traumatized people and traumatic events. “Often, they themselves become objects of persecution, oppression, discrimination. Recently, we have become witnesses of the state’s repression against human rights defenders. All that affects a person’s psycho-emotional state and physical and mental health. People hired in the field of human rights have an increased risk of work-related stress, which in turn leads to professional burnout” – states Lela Tsiskarishvili.

“Human Rights House Tbilisi” offers individual support grants to human rights defenders within the framework of the project supported by the European Union from 2021 and implemented by ERIM. Supported activities are diverse. Among others are psychological counseling, well-being activities, and changing workplaces for short periods.

Such support aims to improve human rights defenders’ physical and mental health, which ultimately affects the well-being of the people intended to be their beneficiaries.

Numerous civil society organization employees and individual activists expressed interest in this opportunity.

Before receiving the support, one of the beneficiaries admitted that s/he feels like working ten years non-stop. Despite being pleased to support others, s/he felt physically and mentally unwell: “Those two years I have worked felt like at least ten. I have met so many people in need of help. This was not only a service provided due to the project but also a selfless act of care… I put my body under great stress. Levels of enthusiasm and responsibility rose, but physical pain and emotional exhaustion, too. And that, I ignored “.

Human rights defenders observed their increased productivity after engaging in physical relaxation activities. One indicated in the survey that specific physical activity proved essential in managing her anxiety and stress: “Primary goal of yoga is to achieve peace of mind and a sense of well-being… this positively affects my communication with beneficiaries in the long run. The calmer, less stressed, and healthier I am, the help I provide gets more effective.”

From August 2021 to 2024, 20 individuals and 22 activities received the support of the Human Rights House. Totally  32,430 GEL was allocated.

Beneficiaries of these opportunities notice a significant improvement in their psychological health reflected in their productivity and more effective efforts. “In our work, every day can be stressful; you face numerous problems, and the environment is not amicable. It is not easy and requires much effort. I question how much I could have carried on without this support. I was allowed to recover my strength and return to my work, which is very sensitive and stressful.’’ – A representative of one of the organizations wrote in the project evaluation form.

According to Lela Tsiskarishvili, human rights organizations need to fathom the risks associated with burnout. “Organizational policies and practices should reflect and include measures to prevent burnout. Appropriate support services should be available to human rights defenders – individual psychological support or group mutual-empowerment processes.”

The Human Rights House continues to support, empower, and offer various opportunities to human rights defenders and activists, including psychosocial services and anti-burnout activities.

In 2023, 124 people benefited from various Human Rights House Tbilisi services. Human rights defenders and activists received psychosocial and legal assistance, physical and digital security consultations, etc.