Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Mental health and emergencies: Being prepared and coping afterward

Public health disasters don’t just affect the environment — they impact mental and emotional health, too. In observance of National Mental Health Awareness Month, the Get Ready Report podcast team spoke with Robert Motta, director of the Child and Family Trauma Institute at Hofstra University about mental health preparedness.

Motta and his students were involved in mental health response following Hurricane Sandy, which damaged communities in the Northeast U.S. in October, killed more than 100 people and left thousands of people homeless. Such emergencies can “have a dramatic impact on mental and emotional health,” Motta says.

After traumatic events, people may experience feelings of anger, guilt, grief and helplessness as well as dramatic mood swings. Such feelings can continue long after the disaster is over, developing into post traumatic stress disorder that can last for months or years.

And it’s not just adults that are affected. To help children cope with emergencies, Motta says parents should stay calm and optimistic and provide assurance that unpredictable things can happen.
“Parents can prepare themselves by realizing that children can be more influenced by their reactions than the actual event,” Motta told the Get Ready campaign.

Knowing you are prepared before an emergency happens can lessen stress during an emergency, says Motta. Instead of struggling to find out where to get help during an emergency, communities and residents can be ready ahead of time by organizing support groups and determining where emergency services such as shelters, food banks and call centers are available.

For more tips on mental health preparedness, listen to the podcast with Motta and read the transcript. For more information, download the Get Ready campaign’s mental health and disaster fact sheet.

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