Lessons learned from natural disasters, including the Black Saturday bushfires, Asian Tsunami and Hurricane Katrina, have helped shape a new web portal aimed at combating the psychological effects of large-scale emergencies, which will be launched this evening in Sydney by the Hon Mark Butler MP, Minister for Mental Health and Ageing.
The Psychosocial Support in Disasters web portal (www.psid.org.au) provides health professionals working with disaster-affected individuals and communities with a step-by-step guide to disaster response and the psychological implications at each stage from Preparation through to Response and Recovery.
It is a joint initiative of the Australian Psychological Society, the Australian Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health, Occupational Therapy Australia, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, the Australian Association of Social Workers, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners and General Practice Victoria.
‘A coordinated approach enhances disaster response and this website brings all the latest and most vital information from across the key agencies together in one place in an easily accessible format,' President of the Australian Psychological Society Professor Bob Montgomery said.
He said Australia was home to many of the world's leading disaster experts, many of whom had contributed their expertise to the site.
‘Australia is very vulnerable to natural disasters and there are few communities that wouldn't be exposed to a natural disaster of some kind at some time so increasing the ability of our communities to prepare for, and recover from, disasters is a priority,' Professor Montgomery said.
Emergency response as outlined on the website is most effective when focussed on preparation, response and recovery. The first step lies in helping those in disaster-prone areas to prepare psychologically, which assists them to stay calm if disaster strikes and effectively implement their disaster plan. The second step involves practical support during the emergency and then, finally, providing social, emotional and psychological support in the recovery stage.
Professor Montgomery said recent disaster experience had shown that people could be assisted to manage the ongoing emotional effects of a disaster such as worry, distress, anger, insomnia and sadness, and to recover more rapidly by using strategies developed by disaster experts which can be taught by health professionals - all of which are outlined on the site.
Professor Montgomery said: ‘Human beings are very resilient. We know that for the majority psychological recovery can be facilitated with the right support. We now need to ensure that health professionals, whom communities turn to in times of need, have the skills and resources to support the natural recovery process.'
The web portal - www.psid.org.au - also includes a user-friendly self-help section for members of the public.
For more information or to arrange an interview, contact: Judith Heywood or Karen Coghlan on 0435 896 444.
The APS is the largest professional association for psychologists in Australia, representing more than 19,000 members. The APS is committed to advancing psychology as a discipline and profession. It spreads the message that psychologists make a difference to peoples' lives, through improving psychological knowledge and community wellbeing.