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Fall 2013, Volume 21, Number 4

A gentleman with a paper and pen is seated at a table talking to a lady, who is across from him.

Photographer: John Ficara/FEMA

Behavioral Health Resources for Times of Disaster

Disasters often occur with very little warning and can create chaos and disorder for families and communities. Although everyone has different ways of coping with disaster, feelings of sadness, grief, and anger are common reactions to these types of sudden and traumatic events. Equipping communities with disaster response preparedness tools is essential to preventing and managing behavioral health issues in the aftermath.

The Disaster Technical Assistance Center (DTAC) supports SAMHSA's efforts to prepare states, territories, tribes, and local entities to deliver effective mental health and substance abuse services in the wake of a large-scale disaster. Aiding in this effort is the Disaster Behavioral Health Information Series (DBHIS) Resource Collections, which contains resource collections and toolkits pertinent to disaster behavioral health. Installments target specific populations, specific types of disasters, and other topics related to all-hazards disaster behavioral health preparedness and response. Examples of materials in the collection follow.

Stress Management

Disaster Distress Helpline - 1-800-985-5990 - Text TalkWithUs to 66746

In 2010, SAMHSA added a specific set of resources to the DBHIS collections focusing on Resilience and Stress Management. Included in the collection are a set of tip sheets, such as Managing Your Stress (PDF, 736KB) and Talking Dollars and Sense With Your Children (PDF, 1.23MB), that SAMHSA created in response to the increasing amount of economic stress reported by Americans. Whether dealing with financial stress, recovering from a natural disaster, or coping with the loss of a family member or friend, these resources can help.

Substance Use

In addition to the mental health consequences of disasters, people with past or current substance use issues are more likely to have difficulties during or after such events. Because of this, SAMHSA recently added a set of new resources on the prevention and treatment of substance use disorders in the disaster context.

"The trauma and upheaval resulting from a disaster can have a profound impact on those with substance use disorders, who may already be struggling with many challenges in their lives. The ability to quickly find and access resources to provide treatment and services is especially important during such an event," says H. Westley Clark, M.D., J.D., M.P.H., Director, Center for Substance Abuse Treatment.

The Substance Use Disorders and Disasters Resources include direct links to tip sheets, guides, and other downloadable resources that can be used to help people with substance use disorders recover from disaster events and find treatment.

"The substance use and disaster resource page provides a one-stop-shop for disaster survivors dealing with substance abuse issues during or after a disaster, in addition to providing tips and resources for first responders and providers working with these individuals," says CDR Jamie Seligman, LMSW-C, BCD, project officer in SAMHSA's Center for Mental Health Services.

Cultural Competence

In an effort to ensure that first responders and service providers deliver culturally competent behavioral health care during times of disaster, the DBHIS Resource Collections contain materials targeted towards the behavioral health needs of specific populations. For example, the Tribal Organizations section of DBHIS contains information regarding the major agencies working with tribal populations, pertinent cultural information, suicide prevention and response information, and substance abuse prevention and treatment intervention materials. To aid in the delivery of culturally competent care, SAMHSA has devoted a specific section of DBHIS to a collection of resources available in languages other than English, including Arabic, Chinese, Haitian Creole/French, Hmong, Japanese, Korean, Lao, Punjabi, Russian, Spanish, and Vietnamese. Podcasts and webinars, such as Applying Cultural Awareness to Behavioral Health Disaster, are also among the resources available on DBHIS to disseminate information about providing culturally competent care during times of disaster.

"Behavioral health is essential to health, which also makes it an integral part of helping Americans overcome disasters," said SAMHSA Administrator Pamela J. Hyde. "When disaster strikes, it is critical that people and communities get the tools and resources they need as soon as possible so that they can begin the recovery process."

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