Disaster Mental Health Operations and Training
There are hundreds of disasters annually in the United States. An increasing number are large enough to be declared federally. Even internationally, we've seen an increase of natural disasters, terrorism, and armed conflict. For cosultation in disaster operations please contact April Naturale, MSW, Ph.D.
The Secretary General of the United Nations, John Holmes, reported in 2008 that disasters have doubled in the past two decades. 90% of disasters are climate related, although human conflicts continue globally. In the US alone there has been a 39% increase in disasters over the past decade.
Who is Affected?
The psychological effects of a traumatic event like a school shooting, terrorist attack, or other mass violence, are second only to physical injuries and death. It is important to note that most people will regain their previous level of functioning over time, especially if they have good social support, and that's where we come in. Communities need to come together to understand their distress responses and how to access their own resilient characteristics to help each other move through the trauma, loss, and grief towards recovery.
Disaster mental health and public health support services can assist in the process. State disaster response agencies, local governments, communities, businesses, and schools can work together to address, and even decrease, the psychological suffering of those at risk.
A Wake-Up Call
The horrific school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, and the Boston Marathon Bombing, caught the attention of the nation as we shared our shock and grief with the families and survivors. Many concerned people want to share their support; however, working with families and children who are traumatized and grieving requires specially trained staff.
The First Step
If you are a mental health responder who has little or no experience working with the trauma of such a disaster, or working with grieving children, refer to the work of specialists in the area. Primary goals should be to support survivors and assure that we do no harm. It is preferred that you provide referrals and resources if you are called into a disaster or traumatic event that you are not properly equipped to manage. For safety and security, check out my pre-deployment checklist.