RESOURCE: Guidelines on Mental Health in Emergency Situations

Posted on 24 September 2008. Filed under: Announcements, Disaster Planning & Mitigation, Psychiatric Disabilities, Resources | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Natural disasters and conflicts can threaten people’s ability to survive. The most urgent need is usually to bring them food, water, shelter, and other basic services. But emergency situations also can be traumatizing. Even people who did not have any psycho-social disabilities before the emergency may develop post-traumatic stress disorder. And people who already had psycho-social disabilities may be at higher risk during emergencies. Professionals in the humanitarian field increasingly recognize the need to address these challenges in the weeks and months following the start of an emergency situation.

The Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) has released the “IASC Guidelines on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergency Settings,” (PDF format, 831 Kb) which offers suggestions for how professionals can better coordinate services across multiple sectors and agencies to meet the mental health needs of people in emergency settings.

This 99-page publication points out that most mental health services during these situations are very fragmented and poorly coordinated. Some efforts may simply duplicate services already offered without improving upon them. Meanwhile, some dire needs may be overlooked entirely. The answer, they say, is for more agencies, humanitarian organizations, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to stop working in isolation and start coordinating efforts with other agencies working in the same location.

They emphasize, “Implementation of the guidelines requires extensive collaboration among various humanitarian actors: no single community or agency is expected to have the capacity to implement all necessary minimum responses in the midst of an emergency” (IASC Guidelines, p. 7).

The guide’s inclusion of issues specific to people with existing psycho-social disabilities, including people in institutions, is good to see. People with psycho-social disabilities generally tend to be perhaps the most overlooked among people with disabilities, and people who are forced into institutions are even more forgotten and abandoned by society.

It is disappointing, however, that the guide, at least in my cursory glance at it, did not seem to have more than superficial references to the mental health needs of people who might have physical or sensory disabilities, either with or without additional psycho-social disabilities. This was a missed opportunity to point out, for example, that deaf people may need sign language interpreters or other communication assistance to fully participate in “talk” related services (support groups, etc.). Or that natural disasters, war, and other emergencies can themselves cause new disabilities–and that people may struggle in the first few months afterwards to adjust, psychologically and socially, to their new situation. Or that people who happen to have both a psycho-social disability and also a physical or sensory disability may have been excluded from mental health services even before the emergency–and should not be overlooked during and after.

But, for people concerned with the mental health needs of all people during emergency situations, this guide may serve as a starting point in thinking how to coordinate broader efforts in addressing them. They can download the guide (PDF format, 831 Kb) at:

http://www.humanitarianinfo.org/iasc/content/products/docs/Guidelines%20IASC%20Mental%20Health%20Psychosocial.pdf

People interested in the needs of people with disabilities during emergency situations in general might also be interested in the following prior blog posts at We Can Do:

And do also become familiar with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) which, among other things, obligates the countries that ratify it to protect the safety of people with disabilities during humanitarian emergencies (see Article 11 of the CRPD).



We Can Do learned about this guide via the email discussion group for the Global Partnership for Disability and Development.

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REPORT: World Disasters Report 2007: Focus on Discrimination

Posted on 29 January 2008. Filed under: Academic Papers and Research, Children, Cross-Disability, Disaster Planning & Mitigation, Human Rights, Inclusion, Reports, Women | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

The World Disasters Report (2007) examines what happens to various vulnerable groups during disaster situations, particularly women, elderly people, minorities, and people with disabilities. This report from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies includes many stories of how discrimination and exclusion has made it harder for some people to survive or meet their needs during and after disaster situations. It also includes guidance and recommendations on how agencies, governments, and communities can improve efforts to ensure that emergency aid reaches the most vulnerable people. Discrimination can occur on the basis of ethnic or social origin, language, religion, gender, age, physical or mental disability, and sexual orientation.

The World Disasters Report points out that, although discrimination exists before disaster, an emergency can exacerbate it. However, that discrimination is often invisible because official data on older people, ethnic minorities or people with disabilities may not exist. Furthermore, aid agencies often do not even analyze the needs of vulnerable people when they carry out emergency assessments. And vulnerable groups are usually not included in the disaster planning process before, during, or after emergencies. This accummulative discrimination can be life-threatening during a crisis. Even after the crisis, people who have suffered discrimination may take longer to recover or to regain their livelihoods.

The World Disasters Report calls for agencies to do better in planning for the needs of vulnerable populations, saying bluntly, “One-size-fits-all relief planning is unhelpful in overcoming discrimination” (p. 15).

We Can Do readers will clearly have a particular interest in the chapter that focuses on the needs of people with disabilities during disasters. Information for this chapter was gathered from both industrialized and developing countries. Stories of discrimination are presented, including stories of how emergency shelters and emergency relief agencies have sometimes contributed to the problem. But you can also find stories highlighting the valuable contributions people with disabilities could make for everyone when they are included in disaster planning efforts. This chapter provides an overview of the barriers that can make it harder for people with disabilities to survive disasters or recover their lives afterwards. And it reviews how agencies and others can remove these barriers.

However, even people who wish to focus primarily on the needs of disabled people may still wish to read the full report. In particular, some of the needs of elderly people are similar to some of the needs of people with disabilities. Also, all the issues covered in this report are cross-cutting issues: any population of disabled people will clearly have people among them who are elderly, or women, or children, or gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender, or ethnic minorities, or other minorities. Disabled people who also belong to some other minority group may experience dual or triple discrimination that can create additional barriers during crisis situations.

Read chapter summaries, download individual chapters for free, or order print copies of the report at:

http://www.ifrc.org/publicat/wdr2007/summaries.asp

The full report can be downloaded in PDF format (4 Mb) at:

http://www.ifrc.org/Docs/pubs/disasters/wdr2007/WDR2007-English.pdf



We Can Do learned about the World Disasters Report through the Disabled People’s International newsletter. Further information was gathered from the report itself.

This article has been cross-posted, with some modifications, at the RatifyNow web site with permission of author.

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