Mental health experts arrived at a consensus regarding the nature of an optimum recovery program to address the mental health impact of disasters, and a methodology to trial its effectiveness internationally, at a roundtable meeting in Sydney.
Professor David Forbes, director of Phoenix Australia, led the two-day roundtable in November, where 21 disaster mental health experts from the US, UK, Canada, Asia and Australia collaboratively developed an evidence-based recovery program for people adversely affected by disaster and trauma.
Over the two days, the group agreed that the recovery program:
- will target people who have been exposed to a disaster (however, the program will be applicable in other trauma situations)
- will be applied in the early to medium-term following a disaster (but will also be effective and beneficial beyond this time)
- is intended for people with ongoing adjustment problems that arise or are exacerbated following a disaster
- aims to reduce distress and psychological symptoms, improve quality of life, and increase social and occupational functioning
- must be appropriate for delivery by local primary healthcare and welfare practitioners, as well as by trained volunteers
- will consist of a brief manualised intervention, and will comprise five, one-hour sessions delivered face-to-face and by telephone
- will comprise simple evidence-based strategies, with an emphasis on reducing distress, enhancing social support, and encouraging a return to normal routines and activities.
An evaluation protocol was developed, including evaluation measures and data collection processes, ensuring consistency for trials conducted internationally.
Despite global recognition that the adverse mental health impact of disasters is a major public health issue, to date there has been a disturbing lack of evidence to inform policy makers and practitioners on how best to help people recover.
Professor Forbes said, “While the initial focus of this recovery program will be disasters of natural or human origin, once trialled, the protocol will have broad applicability across civilian, emergency services, and military settings. This collaboration has the potential to substantially improve mental health outcomes for survivors of disaster and trauma across the world”.
Phoenix Australia is currently seeking funding to continue the work of the international roundtable and develop and evaluate a pilot of the recovery program. For enquiries regarding funding support, please contact Professor David Forbes.