Mental Health integrated disaster preparedness
SLM’s current project integrates mental health intervention and disaster preparedness training in a culturally-tailored framework implemented by local lay mental health workers. This model has the potential to alleviate psychological blocks to engage in disaster preparedness and reduce psychological distress by providing content designed to enhance coping skills and increase preparedness efficacy.
Internal Displacement Camps (IDPs) and low-income residents of Port-au-Prince have endured chronic exposure to disasters and are likely to continue to do so. Thus, intervention is urgently needed both to aid in recovery from the effects of prior disasters and to prevent/mitigate impact of future disasters. From a recovery perspective, mental health services are a priority for survivors of disaster trauma enduring the chronic stress of displacement and poverty. From a prevention standpoint, disaster risk reduction training at the individual, family, and community levels (e.g. development of family and community emergency plans) is critical. We propose that disaster preparedness training and mental health are inherently intertwined. Disaster-related distress symptoms such as depression and PTSD that can inhibit preparedness engagement; teaching coping skills to address such symptoms can enable increased preparedness, so decreasing vulnerability to effects of future disasters. At the same time, preparedness training is likely to benefit mental health, for instance, by increasing perceived efficacy to keep one’s family and property safe in the aftermath of a feared future disaster, facilitating building of social ties, and providing an empowering opportunity to disseminate useful information to others. From this perspective, a joint intervention addressing both disaster preparedness and mental health makes intuitive sense and has potential to be more effective and more time and cost efficient than either service presented separately.
In line with this rationale, SLM has developed a culturally-tailored 10-session mental health integrated disaster preparedness model. A pilot trial was conducted with residents of a Tabarre IDP camp in Sept. 2013, with high participant satisfaction. Manual content (eight 2 hour sessions) is outlined below:
1) Introduction/overview; disaster preparedness definitions; psychological vulnerabilities/strengths
2) Common mental health reactions of adults and children
3) Resilience and coping skills (e.g., physiological relaxation, imagery, social support)
4) Disaster causes, cycle, and preparedness strategies for hurricanes, flooding, and earthquakes
5) Family and community preparedness plans
6) Being effective during a disaster. Maintaining hope.
7) Review, exam, and training in how to disseminate information to help others
8) Graduation; certificates distributed. The objective is that graduates will continue to run peer-led support groups and will disseminate preparedness and mental health information to aid others in their community.
Additional trainings in the model have been requested by IDP camp residents and committee members and by humanitarian actors (e.g., IOM Disaster Risk Reduction). SLM is working to secure resources for further dissemination of this model.