At ShelterBox our response teams deploy all over the world. We support people in need of emergency shelter when conflict, climate crises and events like earthquakes mean returning home isn’t an option. We have a duty of care to the people we support, as well as our own staff and volunteers. Encouraging a positive work life balance and supporting wellbeing across our organisation is crucial. That includes our teams responding to disasters, when pressure can be heightened.

That is why for the last 10 years we have been providing psychological support for response team members who have experienced a traumatic event. We do that using a trauma focused peer support system known as TRiM. This originated in the UK Armed Forces, and is now used more widely. It helps to monitor and support people’s wellbeing and mental health through structured conversations. Our TRiM team has provided support following road traffic collisions, and earthquake aftershocks.

Supporting mental health before, during and after deployment

When our teams are deployed to support disaster affected people, the heavy workload, challenges from operating in disaster affected regions, and potential exposure to traumatic events make poor mental health more likely. It’s the same across the humanitarian sector. Often, affected communities will have lived through a harrowing experience. Our response teams are not immune to indirect trauma. Hearing what communities have been through and seeing destruction can have an untold impact.

Someone’s first time in these types of environments can be quite a shock. On the other hand, those that have experienced many similar situations can struggle with the cumulative effects.

On top of that, long working days, sometimes illness, and navigating unfamiliar working environments can make it harder for people to process trauma and recover from it.

Man walking next to destroyed buildings in the Philippines
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Dave Ray on deployment out in the Philippines after Typhoon Rai

I accessed TRiM after experiencing earthquakes and seeing huge levels of damage while working on ShelterBox responses such as Lombok (Indonesia) and Türkiye, deployments to high security situations such as Haiti and Somalia, and crucially in countries such as Malawi and Bangladesh, where the sense that I “couldn’t do enough” to help people had a big impact. I have benefitted greatly from receiving TRiM, as it helps me understand and articulate feelings I may have, but don’t have the words for. As a practitioner I find it a very powerful tool to help people do the same.

Dave Ray

Using TRiM with our response teams

We take a people-centred approach to wellbeing. TRiM gives us the tools to support in this way following a potentially traumatic event, including on deployment. Everyone who deploys for ShelterBox receives a debrief with a trained TRiM practitioner either one-to-one or in a group. This is regardless of whether trauma is reported or not. It means people who may need support don’t feel singled out. It also gives our teams the opportunity to talk to a colleague rather than friends and family, which evidence suggests can be less effective and more challenging.

We aren’t able to offer affected communities support with their own wellbeing because of our capacity and focus on emergency shelter. But we are mindful of it. Our teams listen actively. We are mindful not to retraumatise individuals in conversations – including in content gathering. If there are serious concerns, we would work with our partners and stakeholders to ensure signposting to relevant services.

Woman wearing blue next to bundles of aid in Malawi
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Jemima Evans on deployment in Malawi

When I got home from our response to the earthquakes that affected people in Türkiye and Syria, I felt broken. I had never seen devastation to that scale and at times it felt as though, despite all we were doing, it would never be enough.


Working with a TRiM practitioner really helped me to work through everything that happened and start to process the events that I had experienced. It is really important that we look after ourselves and stop ignoring our mental health so we can be better equipped to support communities after disaster.

TRiM is an excellent tool and one that I will be using again if needed. I now feel more prepared for future deployments. Although I will never forget what happened, it has helped me move forwards.

Jemima Evans

TRiM at ShelterBox

We have more than 20 trained TRiM practitioners across the organisation. They have all undergone thorough training with an organisation called March on Stress. They are trained to spot signs of distress in people that may otherwise go unnoticed and signpost people to additional support. The training is evidence based and regularly reviewed and updated with the support of three in-house managers.

A TRiM response is designed to work with senior leaders and involve them. It does so while maintaining the confidentiality of individuals risk assessed. Our CEO went through a TRiM debrief following his first deployment. Along with other senior leaders he supports us to ensure people across the organisation are aware of the support available.

TRiM is embedded in our critical incident plans, and we carry out exercises with senior leaders to enable this understanding and prepare for worst case scenarios.

We talk openly across ShelterBox about the support that we offer and the reasons for it, including through e-learning. This is mandatory for all deployable staff and volunteers. As such people exposed to trauma know what support is available and how to access it. It can also help break down the stigma associated with poor mental health. Counselling and additional wellbeing support can be sought through our Employee Assistance Programme (EAP). This is confidential, free and available 24/7.

People walking in a displacement camp in Somalia
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Dave Ray (left) was one of the ShelterBox team members that went to Somalia

The work we do, both in the field and at HQ, can be highly stressful and volatile, and we are exposed to situations that could be traumatic in many ways. The potential for burnout and negative mental health effects is high and very real, and TRiM is an essential tool to understand how people really are.


Whilst not being a cure or treatment for poor mental health, it is designed to highlight issues people are having so they can be signposted to next step services if needed. I was able to access further support from other services, including our Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) and I know that others have done the same from when I have debriefed them using TRiM.

It’s a very valuable tool in making sure we are all capable and ready to meet the daily challenges we face in providing services to those in need.

Dave Ray

Aside from trauma, but with wellbeing in mind we also have a team of mental health first aiders. Some have completed Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST). They support colleagues with day-to-day stressors. This can include common mental health issues, self-care, and coping strategies.

We provide support to other organisations newer to their TRiM journeys. As part of this we offer advice on how we have implemented it at ShelterBox and share how it has worked well for us.

Our core values at ShelterBox are integrity, flexibility, participation, and learning. TRiM helps us hold ourselves accountable for doing the very best we can, not only for those we support, but also one another. It helps us adapt and overcome challenges, support one another, while looking at how we can continue to improve our ways of working.