Presentation Title: The Most Significant Psychological Consequences of Disasters

Abstract: The psychological consequences of disasters and other emergencies can be significant for all people, particularly vulnerable populations such as seniors, homeless, and people with disabilities. Disasters elicit a range of psychological responses that are influenced by intrapersonal factors and interpersonal circumstances, as well as by the nature of the event. One-third of published research articles reported increased prevalence of untreated severe psychological symptomatology and diagnosable disorders such as PTSD, depression, and anxiety disorders after disasters. Numerous commissioned reports and research studies have documented the adverse consequences of untreated depression, anxiety, and PTSD. While the use of Psychological First Aid and evidence-based practices like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to treat psychological symptoms shows promise in improving survivors’ mental health outcomes, most who would benefit from post-disaster intervention do not receive needed treatment. This is particularly true for people from racially or ethnically diverse populations. At present, little is known about why people in need of disaster mental health services do not seek or accept available and no-fee crisis counseling. This presentation will review existing research on mental health outcomes, describe barriers to treatment, highlight effective methods for outreach, and identify needed changes to existing systems of care. As the demographics of our population continue to change, it is critical that communities, non-profit organizations, government agencies, and policymakers are aware of the needs of these various subgroups and are prepared to assist in providing safe shelter and facilitating their recovery efforts.

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