Saturday, August 17, 2013

Mental health an overlooked casualty of disaster

Lucy Westcott via IPS: Although Hurricane Sandy made her final sweep through the Northeastern United States nearly 10 months ago, for many people the stress caused by the storm lingers. In Lower Manhattan, two hotlines, the Disaster Distress Helpline (DDH) and Project Hope, which is part of the New York City-wide helpline Lifenet, and specifically for those affected by Sandy, are at the frontline of disaster counselling, listening to myriad concerns ranging from queries about post-storm open hours of drug rehabilitation programmes to anxious parents reluctantly sending their children back to school in the days after the Newtown, Connecticut school shooting last December. Both programmes are administered by the Mental Health Association of New York City.

As the United Nations launches the world’s first ever survey asking persons with disabilities around the world about their experience preparing for and living with disasters, IPS examines the impact of both natural and human-made disasters for people with disabilities in New York City and worldwide.

Persons with disabilities are often left out of municipal emergency planning meetings, and many believe that their voices fall silent when it comes to preparing for life-or-death situations. Over 80 percent of the world’s disabled population live in developing countries, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and disabled people are more likely to die and become injured than non-disabled people in disasters.

...Building on the phrase used by the disabled community, “Nothing about us without us,” experts from FEMA to Handicap International, as well as those who specialise in emergency management training for disabled people, stress the need for more inclusive planning, and including those very people decisions are being made for in the planning process.

“Typically the kind of disasters that result in a spike of calls at the national level are those that are larger in scale. The impacts tend to be greater in terms of loss of life, loss of property or the potential for psychological distress on a sizeable population,” Christian Burgess, director of the DDH, told IPS.

...“It’s not therapy, it’s not a substitute for therapy. Really, it involves listening,” Burgess says, comparing the helpline to triage for mental health....

Sandy and the aftermath: October 29, 2012 in New York City, shot by JordanBalderas, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

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