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Disasters And Their Impact On Mental Health

Disasters And Their Impact On Mental Health

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists expresses sorrow for the loss of life, injury and trauma resulting from the Haitian earthquake.

“The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists shares the community’s grief and distress at the tragic consequences of the earthquake,” said President of The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists Professor Louise Newman.

“The people of Haiti will be suffering significant grief and loss as a result of the earthquake. Western countries should consider the psychological needs of the Haitian population and how they can assist. It is important that skilled assistance is available to people over the complex period of the aftermath and recovery. Such horrific circumstances of loss and trauma will be painful for everybody and may lead to mental health anguish, particularly for those who have been most directly affected,” said Professor Newman.

“There is much that can be done to assist people in dealing with natural disasters in both the immediate aftermath and in the longer term for those with lasting effects. Caution is required in the immediate response to avoid revisiting the traumatic events through ‘debriefing’ as this may compound the trauma.

Attention should be directed instead to assisting people to recover with appropriate support and acknowledgement of loss and grief,” said Professor Newman.

“Relief workers need to be supported psychologically, as the effects of working in a disaster zone can cause trauma and have serious impact on their mental health,” said Professor Newman.

“Many people throughout the world, including Australia and New Zealand, will be touched by these dramatic events. Media coverage of disasters can be confronting and distressing. We particularly need to consider the psychological impact on children of exposure to graphic media coverage and ensure that it is limited. Vulnerable people and those who may have previously experienced a disaster situation may find media coverage distressing,” said Professor Newman.

“Some people may be feeling anxious, stressed or depressed as a result of the disaster. People are encouraged to talk to someone about their thoughts and seek appropriate professional help. If people are feeling distress they should seek help from health professionals, a telephone counselling service or visit their general practitioner,” said Professor Newman.

“It is important to promote ways people can maintain their mental wellbeing, encourage early detection of mental illness and publicise available support strategies,” said Professor Newman. People can use relatively simple measures to safeguard their mental health. The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists recommends:

•Social engagement is important – catch up with friends and family, get involved in yourcommunity Early intervention in the first stages of mental illness is essential – if you think you could

be suffering a mental illness it is important to visit your General Practitioner

•Minimising alcohol intake and not smoking tobacco or using illicit drugs

•Stress reduction through regular exercise, a balanced and nutritious diet and relaxation techniques


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