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October 2010

  1. Welcome
  2. Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Guidelines on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergency Settings (2007)
  3. APS Statement on the Role of Psychologists in International Emergencies
  4. Psychosocial Support In Disasters web portal
  5. Update on the bushfire psychological counselling voucher program.

Welcome

Dear {Name},

It is now a couple of months since the flooding began in Pakistan, and a few weeks post the earthquake in Christchurch, NZ. Our concern and sympathy extends to the thousands of people affected by these events.

Many of you will have reflected on the vast differences in disaster impact and recovery experienced recently by three very different countries, New Zealand, Pakistan, and, in late 2009, Haiti. Whilst the actual death toll in Pakistan is unknown, it has been estimated to be at least over 1500 people, with more than 4 million people left homeless as a result of the devastating floods. Amazingly, in New Zealand, nobody died as a direct result of the earthquake on 4 September in New Zealand. An earthquake of similar magnitude in Haiti last year, however, led to the deaths of over 250,000 people.

These recent events dramatically highlight the reality that it is often the poorest communities that are already deficient in services, which are likely to be disproportionately impacted by natural disasters. While extreme weather events and disasters like earthquakes occur worldwide, the mental health impacts will be compounded by the vulnerability of individuals and communities (how poor they are, how resilient, and how prepared to withstand the disaster), the appropriateness of emergency responses, and the resources available to provide support and rebuild.

Usually, after a devastating disaster somewhere in the world, people have a strong urge to assist in some way, especially if they have certain skills they think would be useful. Below, we have included a summary of some UN guidelines that have been written for health professionals providing mental health and psychosocial support in emergency settings. The APS has also written a statement on the role of psychologists in international emergencies to help our members who are interested in this work.

The APS has launched a new web portal on psychosocial support in disaster. The portal was developed by the APS and an expert reference group of health and mental health practitioners after the Victorian bushfires. The resources and links in the web portal will help health professionals working with individuals and communities threatened or affected by emergencies and disasters.

Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Guidelines on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergency Settings (2007)

The IASC guidelines offer essential advice on how to facilitate an integrated approach to the most urgent mental health and psychosocial issues in emergency situations. Psychologists or other mental health professionals who wish to consult or respond in international emergency situations need to be familiar with these guidelines.

The IASC was set up by the United Nations to facilitate inter-agency decision-making in response to complex emergencies and natural disasters. These guidelines were developed over several years by hundreds of mental health professionals around the world, and have been endorsed by UN agencies and international and local non-government organisations involved in international humanitarian relief.

Summary of guidelines

The IASC guidelines provide a matrix of minimum responses in the midst of emergencies. Some guidelines which are particularly relevant to mental health professionals include:

  • Conduct assessments of mental health and psychosocial issues, addressing both needs and resources
  • Organise orientation and training of aid workers in mental health and psychosocial support
  • Prevent and manage problems in mental health and psychosocial well-being among staff and volunteers
  • Facilitate community self-help and social support
  • Facilitate conditions for appropriate communal cultural, spiritual and religious healing practices
  • Include specific psychological and social considerations in provision of general health care
  • Provide access to care for people with severe mental disorders

Note on provision of psychological first aid

The IASC guidelines recommend making psychological first aid immediately available for survivors of extreme stressors and for all critical incident survivors. Although natural opportunities should be provided for sharing among survivors, they should not be pushed to describe events in detail, nor should they be pressured to share or listen to details of other survivors’ experiences.

We urge all DRN members to familiarise themselves with these guidelines. We provide links to the comprehensive manual, as well as the shorter checklist for field use.

View IASC guidelines

APS Statement on the Role of Psychologists in International Emergencies

The APS has put out a statement on the role of psychologists in international emergencies, in which we endorse the IASC guidelines, and list of series of recommendations for psychologists wanting to work in emergencies.

View APS Statement

Psychosocial Support In Disasters web portal

One of the priorities in emergencies and disasters is to protect and improve people’s mental health and psychosocial well-being. The Psychosocial Support in Disasters web portal has been developed so that health professionals working with people threatened or affected by disasters can share resources. It provides valuable information for health professionals working with individuals and communities threatened by, or affected by, emergencies and disasters.

This disaster portal was developed by an expert reference group of health and mental health practitioners after the Victorian bushfires, funded by the Department of Health and Aging, and coordinated by the Australian Psychological Society.

View Psychosocial Support in Disasters web portal

Update on the bushfire psychological counselling voucher program.

Several DRN members have participated in the Victorian DHS Voucher program that was established following the Black Saturday bushfires. The Bushfire Psychological Counselling Voucher Program can now offer a second round of six counselling vouchers to applicants who have used all six of their vouchers. This includes parents who have used their own vouchers in family counselling to support the care of children under five years of age. A maximum of twelve vouchers will be issued to any individual.

It is important to note that applicants who require additional counselling support beyond the Bushfire Psychological Counselling Voucher Program or who require specialist treatment should be advised to visit their local general medical practitioner for ongoing advice and referral.

Applicants wishing to apply for an additional six counselling vouchers should complete the application for additional bushfire counselling vouchers available from case managers, community service hubs or from the DHS website.

The following forms are also available from the APS website:

  • Updated information sheet for applicants
  • Updated information sheet service providers
  • Copy of the application form for additional vouchers.

View forms on APS website

If you have feedback on DRN News, or useful information or suggestions that you would like us to include in DRN News, please contact us at drn@psychology.org.au.

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