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Disaster Behavioral Health . Implications for Community and Migrant Health Care Centers . Taking the Next Step in Emergency Preparedness. Research Professor Schools of Nursing and Public Health and Community Medicine . Randal Beaton, PhD, EMT.

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Disaster behavioral health

Disaster Behavioral Health

Implications for Community and Migrant Health Care Centers

Research professor schools of nursing and public health and community medicine
Research ProfessorSchools of Nursing and Public Health andCommunity Medicine

Randal Beaton, PhD, EMT

Faculty Northwest Center forPublic Health Practice University of Washington

Aims of disaster behavioral health
Aims of Disaster Behavioral Health

  • To prevent maladaptive psychological and behavioral reactions of disaster victims and rescue workers (to promote resilience)


  • To minimize the counterproductive effects maladaptive reactions might have on the disaster response and recovery


  • To identify the Psychosocial Phases of a Disaster with implications for Community and Migrant Health Centers

  • To analyze the psychological, social and behavioral patterns observed in the aftermath of disasters including resilience

  • To identify strategies to promote and preserve resilience in Community and Migrant Health Center patients & staff

Learning objective
Learning Objective

  • Identify the psychosocial phases of a community-wide disaster and to describe the behavioral health tasks for Community and Migrant Health Centers associated with each phase

Psychosocial phases of a disaster1
Psychosocial Phases of a Disaster


* From Zunin & Myers (2000)

Implications tasks of each phase for disaster personnel pre disaster
Implications/Tasks of each Phase for Disaster Personnel - Pre-disaster

  • Warning—e.g., weather forecast

  • Educate your patients and staff

  • Inform of hazards and risk

  • Instruct them in ways to stay safe

  • Evacuate or “stay put”

Pre disaster
Pre-Disaster Pre-disaster

  • Risk communication: To reduce anxiety, must also tell people what they should do (without jargon)

  • Education using multiple media and multiple languages and messengers, e.g., DOH pandemic influenza campaign

  • Drills and exercises should include mental health component

Impact Pre-disaster

  • Prepare for surge- disaster victims will arrive with minutes/80% will be walk-ins

  • Advise/instruct/give directions- people will follow leaders and follow instructions (panic is rare)

  • Risk communication update- as more is known

  • Leadership- is crucial: based on plan & flexible

  • Washington state county crisis lines – DSHS/MHD

    • http://www1.dshs.wa.gov/Mentalhealth/

Wa state county crisis lines dshs mhd
WA State County Crisis Lines (DSHS/MHD) Pre-disaster


Heroic Pre-disaster

Disaster survivors themselves are true “First Responders”

Honeymoon community cohesion
Honeymoon (community cohesion) Pre-disaster

  • Survivors may be elated and happy just to be alive

  • Realize this phase will not last

Disillusionment Pre-disaster

  • Reality of disaster “hits home”

  • Provide assistance for the distressed- no currently accepted community standard for disaster mental health care= PFA is new & largely untested

  • Disaster “issues”

  • Losses & hardships

Working through grief coming to terms
Working Through Grief (coming to terms) Pre-disaster

  • This is when disaster victims actually begin to need psychotherapy and/or medications (only a small fraction)

  • Trigger events—reminders

  • Anniversary reactions—set back

Reconstruction a new beginning
Reconstruction (“a new beginning”) Pre-disaster

Still, even following recovery, disaster victims may be less able to cope with next disaster

What to say
What to Say! Pre-disaster


  • Can you tell me what happened?

  • I’m sorry.

  • This must be difficult for you.

  • I’m here to be with you.

What not to say
What Not to Say! Pre-disaster

DON’T Say:

  • I know exactly how you feel.

  • Don’t cry.

  • Don’t feel…

  • I’m here to help you.

  • It could have been worse.

Learning objective1
Learning Objective Pre-disaster

  • Describe the various temporal patterns of behavioral health outcomes following a disaster

Question Pre-disaster

What is the most common behavioral health reaction observed in the aftermath of most disasters?

A. An acute reaction of distress followed by recovery

B. The onset and persistence of PTSD

C. Delayed onset PTSD

D. Resilience

Module 2 temporal patterns of mental behavioral responses to disaster
Module 2: Temporal Patterns of Pre-disasterMental/Behavioral Responses to Disaster

Resilience Pre-disaster

  • Differs from recovery

  • Individuals “thrive”

  • Relatively stable trajectory

  • Resilience is often seen in a majority of disaster survivors

Ways to promote community resilience in the aftermath of disaster
Ways to Promote Community Resilience in the Aftermath of Disaster

  • Reunite family members

  • Engage churches and pastoral community

  • Ask community and migrant health clinic leaders, teachers, and authorities to “reach out”

Risk factors that deter resilience
Risk Factors that Deter Resilience Disaster

  • Job loss and economic hardships

  • Loss of sense of safety

  • Loss of sense of control

  • Loss of symbolic or community structure

Pre existing vulnerability factors that may deter resilience risk factors
Pre-existing Vulnerability Factors that May Deter Resilience (Risk Factors)

  • Lack of resources- lower SES

  • Lack of social support

  • Current or history of mental disorder

  • Lack of a sense of community connectedness and community cohesion

  • Lack of plan; lack of training

  • Child or geriatric status

  • Language and cultural barriers

  • Severity of physical injuries & kin/friend fatalities

Acute distress and recovery
Acute Distress and Recovery (Risk Factors)

Post-disaster recovery usually occurs within:

  • Days

  • Weeks

  • A few months

    Acute distress and recovery (with or without any intervention) is next most common pattern typically observed in 10-30% of disaster survivors

Temporal patterns of mental behavioral responses to disaster1
Temporal Patterns of (Risk Factors)Mental/Behavioral Responses to Disaster

Chronic distress
Chronic Distress (Risk Factors)

  • Acute/Chronic Distress and/or Lasting Maladaptive Health Behavior Outcomes

  • This pattern, while relatively rare (typically 5-15%), accounts for a disproportionate percentage of consumables– counseling, medications and disability

Module 2 temporal patterns of mental behavioral responses to disaster1
Module 2: Temporal Patterns of (Risk Factors)Mental/Behavioral Responses to Disaster

Delayed Onset Distress

Delayed onset distress
Delayed onset distress (Risk Factors)

  • This is the least frequent pattern observed; generally seen in less than 10% of disaster survivors (perhaps more common in children)

  • One study of 9/11 survivors in Manhattan area reported delayed onset PTSD at one year (but not at earlier times) in 5% of study subjects

Post trauma growth
Post trauma Growth (Risk Factors)

  • Research suggests that 10% or more of disaster survivors actually experience positive psychosocial changes in the aftermath of a crisis.

    (Tedeschi et al., 1998)

Module 2 temporal patterns of mental behavioral responses to distress
Module 2: Temporal Patterns of (Risk Factors)Mental/Behavioral Responses to Distress

Apa fact sheets on resilience to help people cope with terrorism and other disasters
APA Fact Sheets on Resilience to Help People Cope With Terrorism and Other Disasters

Fact Sheets


Field manual for mental health and human service workers in major disasters
Field Manual for Mental Health and Human Service Workers in Major Disasters


Summary Major Disasters

  • The disaster behavioral health needs of a disaster affected community depend on the psychosocial phase of the disaster

  • Most individuals are resilient and are able to cope with the stressors associated with a disaster

  • Some individuals and communities are more vulnerable to the negative impacts on disaster behavioral health

Summary continued
Summary (continued) Major Disasters

  • Most short-term psychological and behavioral reactions to disasters are “normal” and do not require a psychological evaluation or treatment

  • Some acutely distressed individuals may need and benefit from Psychological First Aid

  • A relatively small number of disaster victims may require long term counseling and medications