In this second decade of the 21st century we have seen unprecedented
floods in Australia, South Africa, the Philippines, and Brazil; Japan
suffering the effects of a major earthquake, tsunami and radiation;
earthquakes in New Zealand, Chile and Turkey; and massive wildfires and
widespread tornadoes in the USA. Also precipitating loss of life and
widespread damage, the fires of unrest and protest that have erupted
across the Middle East, from Yemen to Bahrain, to Egypt and Libya,
hundreds of thousands of citizens have taken to the streets, voicing
their opposition to long held regimes who have tried to quell the rising
chorus, at times with violence.
2010 in particular, we saw devastation across the globe. From the beautiful
mountainsides of Haiti, China and Turkey, to the coastal areas of
Chile…natural disasters have left hundreds of thousands dead
or injured and millions more displaced, many experiencing psychological
"aftershocks." Equally devastating, armed conflict continues to disrupt
lives, communities and countries - from the urban streets of Bangkok,
to the mountains of rural Afghanistan, the jungles of the Democratic
Republic of the Congo, the suburbs of Baghdad.... many more hundreds of
thousands are affected by humans fighting each other -- and suffer the
consequences of violent conflict -- residents live in terror, flee
their homes and their communities, lose livelihoods, loved ones and
ways of life.
In the immediate
aftermath of these kinds of events, focus is necessarily on rescue
efforts, on the provision of food and water and temporary shelter, and
the treatment of physical wounds. But the psychological impacts on
survivors, and those related to them, are equally important. For some
survivors, these psychosocial effects last long after the news cameras
and international aid organizations move on.
know from past disasters around the world that distress, anxiety,
grief, even terror, are normal responses to such an abnormal event. We
know too, that there is no universal response to this kind of trauma,
and there is no universal “treatment.” We do know
that in time, most people adapt and are able to build new normal lives.
Some, however, do face long-term challenges.
ensure that survivors have the best possible chance to adjust to the
consequences of such disasters, past large-scale traumatic events
provide key lessons
about how to manage the psychological and social impacts:
the immediate aftermath of such tragic events, social support and basic
psychological “first aid” is an effective
to support people responding to the challenges posed by their
experience of the disaster. Psychology Beyond Borders supports the
for mental health response to disasters developed by
the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC), a consortium of
organizations including the United
Nations. These recommended strategies are informed by evidence of what
works versus what does not work in
the immediate provision of
psychosocial assistance to those in need. Click here to
download a copy
of the IASC Guidelines on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergency Settings.
assisting individuals in the immediate aftermath of disaster,
Psychology Beyond Borders also supports the Psychological First Aid
developed by the National Center for PTSD. Click
for more information.
those people who do experience sustained psychological distress,
research shows (for example in the aftermath of the September 11
attacks) that the wrong response to a disaster by well-meaning helpers
can actually add to long-term suffering. It is therefore crucial
all “help” is based on the best possible evidence
and that mental health workers are trained and experienced in those
need for contributing to the body of evidence of what works and what
does not work in helping communities, survivors and
affected by disaster is critical, otherwise further harm can be
enacted. Contributing to the body of evidence through facilitating
development, implementation and evaluation of psychosocial practices is
the mission of Psychology Beyond Borders.
need for long term strategic planning is essential to augment the
“help” provided in the short term. Focusing
well-planned, evidence-informed (and evidence-building), long-term
psychosocial practices that build local community capacity is also the
mission of Psychology Beyond Borders.