Psychological Responses to Disaster

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The psychological and psychiatric impact of great natural disasters are beginning to be understood leading to new methods of prevention, intervention and mitigation. There is limited data from the Asian continent, however, which has been the location of some of the greatest disasters of recent times. In this paper, we outline the psychosocial intervention efforts from nine Asian nations when confronted with large-scale natural catastrophic events. These include reports from situations where local services have some capacity to respond as well as those where services are destroyed or overwhelmed. From this it is possible to draw some general principles of psychosocial disaster intervention: (1) Assessment of disaster, extant service systems and incoming resources. (2) Assessment of help-seeking pathways and cultural models of illness. (3) Facilitation and support for family reunion, identification of the dead and cultural and religious practices to address death and grief. (4) Foster and bolster community group activities where possible. (5) Psychosocial training of community, aid and health workers using a train the trainer model to promote case identification, psychoeducation and intervention, with specific emphasis on vulnerable groups, especially children. (6) Promote general community psychoeducation. (7) Train medical and health staff in basic psychiatric and psychological assessment and intervention for post-traumatic stress, mood and anxiety disorders. (8) Minimise risk factors for psychiatric morbidity such as displacement and loss of gainful activity. (9) Reshape mental health systems recognising the long-term psychiatric sequelae of disaster. The collective learnt experience from Asian natural disasters may be constructively used to plan strategies to respond appropriately to the psychosocial consequences of disaster both within Asia and in the rest of the world.
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