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Mental Health in the Community: Disaster Preparedness, Survival and Resilience

By Nichole Tucker
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Communities can come face to face with mental health issues during and after disasters. This is a reality that was made clear after Hurricane Katrina - when survivors showed signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Now, Harvey, Irma and Jose have arrived and in places like Houston, evidence of mental instability can already be seen.

“There’s a great deal of fear and anxiety about the future. And so we’re seeing a lot of very anxious people who are not sure what they’ll find when they return to their homes," said Annalee Gulley, Director of Public Policy and Government Affairs, Mental Health America of Greater Houston

In a recent ecoAmerica report, Mental Health and Our Changing Climate, we have pinpointed ways to prevent mental instability in the community and build resilience after traumatic events.

Preparedness

Most cities and municipalities have disaster procedures set in place, but few of them take precautions based on evident changes to our climate. This means the disasters will occur, but by preparing for them, communities can limit poor health outcomes and boost resilience.

Preparing mentally for traumatic events on the community level requires key steps. Here are some tips directly from our recent mental health report:

  • Assess and expand community mental health infrastructure.
  • Facilitate social cohesion through community design.
  • Train the people who will serve the community during a disaster.
  • Provide clear and frequent information.
  • Develop trusted and action-focused warning systems.

Community preparedness doesn’t fall onto the shoulders of one person. It must be a joint effort in order to limit anxiety and make survival more likely.

A common thread among survivors is the ability to prioritize and maintain focus on the task at hand. -Kyle Allred

Survival

Although natural disasters and other traumatic events are out of our hands, survival is partly controlled by our mental state. Getting through the event requires focus, support, and action. Is your city or municipality checking all of these boxes?

  • Provide a fast response.
  • Have a post-disaster plan.
  • Engage community members.

Survival means making it through the event but doesn’t always mean the community is well. The human mind is multidimensional. In order for disaster survivors and communities that have experienced a disaster to be resilient, communities have to target all mental factors including, health disparities.

Resilience

As stated in Mental Health and Our Changing Climate; Building resilience for disasters and confronting the gradual changes due to climate change will help communities alleviate adverse health outcomes. Communities can:  

  • Increase cooperation and social cohesion.
  • Reduce disparities.
  • Pay special attention to vulnerable populations.
  • Provide opportunities for meaningful action.

These tips on preparedness, survival, and resilience ensure that the community is well, thriving and resilient. By taking each of these tips, it also ensures that no member of the community is left out of the preparation or healing processes.