The development of outreach strategies in the wake of disasters stems from the knowledge that most people do not see themselves as in need of mental health or crisis intervention services even when they are experiencing distress symptoms after a traumatic event.
The majority of survivors will not require formal mental health services, but most benefit from supportive interventions such as Psychological First Aid and crisis counseling. However, it is important to remember that everyone who sees or experiences a disaster is affected by it in some way. Psycho-education through crisis counseling, outreach efforts, and public messaging/risk communications may assist in helping survivors understand their reactions, provide some helpful tips/coping ideas, and move through the recovery period more quickly.
When developing an outreach strategy for your disaster response program, remember that an outreach strategy:
- Is based on the initial needs assessment and, like the needs assessment, should be adjusted throughout the response.
- Identifies a geographic and demographic plan for outreach that includes addressing survivors throughout the lifecycle spectrum (infants and toddlers who react to their caregiver’s stress; school-aged children and youth whose distress symptoms can vary widely from regression to high risk behaviors; adults who are caregivers of children and others including elderly parents; frail elderly with chronic medical concerns or limited mobility and survivors of any age with limited access and functional needs) .
- Identifies the special populations within the affected community.
- Provides a plan for addressing survivors’ primary needs, emotional supports for families of victims, and broad scale psycho-education for the whole community.
- Identifies ethical issues to ensure consideration of immigrant groups, limited proficiency and non-English speaking populations, and others with functional or access needs.
- Identifies those with serious and persistent mental illnesses, substance misuse concerns and others with preexisting emotional disorders in need of ongoing outpatient care by working with the local provider community for appropriate linkages and referrals.
- Suggests ways that the needs of those people less directly affected are also addressed.
- Includes canvassing tips.
- Provides a plan for decreasing and focused outreach as the program winds down to close-out.
When reviewing an outreach strategy, it is important for disaster response program staff to do the following:
- Bring respect to the work by using common courtesies such as asking for a few minutes to talk, using last names with elders, and thanking people for their time and the opportunity to work with them.
- Be alert as to how staff can manage their own biases or differences from the populations they serve by understanding the wide variety of beliefs that people have in this country. Practice cultural awareness and know that there is no “right” or “wrong” way of being as long as we are not hurting others.
- Train staff to maintain confidentiality even within professional discussions about their work (e.g., refrain from saying names of people when sharing in a group about how they were affected by someone's story).
- Be sensitive when working with people with limited or no English speaking proficiency; whenever possible, identify a family member or interpreter who can accompany you during your visit.