Evaluation of Mental Health Emergency Preparedness among Health Professionals

By Ablah, Elizabeth; Hawley, Suzanne et al. | Journal of Allied Health, Fall 2008 | Go to article overview

Evaluation of Mental Health Emergency Preparedness among Health Professionals


Ablah, Elizabeth, Hawley, Suzanne, Konda, Kurt M., Wolfe, Deborah, Cook, David J., Journal of Allied Health


The purpose of this study was to identify if health professionals report an increase in mental health preparedness abilities with having only two mental health components as part of a 2-day preparedness training conference. At each of three conferences, identical pretraining and posttraining surveys were administered to conference participants. A 3-month follow-up survey was administered to respondents who volunteered to complete them. At pretraining, respondents (n = 603) reported generally greater mental health preparedness abilities than non-mental health preparedness abilities. This trend continued at posttraining (n = 490) and at 3 months posttraining (n = 195). Participants reported significantly increased mental health preparedness abilities at immediate posttraining and at 3 months posttraining from pretraining. This current study suggests that even when mental health items are included as a secondary component of disaster preparedness training, significant and meaningful growth in participants' confidence in their abilities can occur. J Allied Health 2008; 37:144-149.

THE PSYCHOLOGICAL IMPLICATIONS of disasters have received increased attention in the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina in September 2005. Research has consistently established that a significant degree of psychological trauma occurs in connection with a disaster event and that this has the potential to be even more disabling than the physical effects.1-12 Furthermore, the experience of psychological trauma is not limited to those directly impacted by-disaster events.3,7,13 For every person physically affected by a human-caused disaster, Demartino (as cited in Stein) estimates that as many as four to 50 people experience psychological effects.13

The majority of the potential harm to the populace that survives a natural disaster or terror attack will occur via compromised mental health and impaired functioning.14 Those experiencing psychological trauma may manifest a variety of emotional, cognitive, and physical symptoms. These include stress, anxiety, depression, paranoia, guilt, immune system suppression, chronic pain, difficulty sleeping, and restricted ability to function on a daily basis.1,15-17 On an individual level, psychological responses to disaster can vary according to gender, age, race, and proximity to event,3,7,18 necessitating population-specific interventions. First responders and health care workers would not be exempt from psychological affects from a disaster,15,19-21 which could compromise their ability to provide care.

It is widely agreed by researchers that mental health topics should be incorporated into preparedness planning and training so that a broad spectrum of health professionals will be able to address the psychological consequences of a disaster.10,14,15,17,22-27 To date, however, no widely accepted mental health preparedness training standards or competencies exist.27 It is therefore not known what degree of knowledge or training is needed by different populations within the field of health care, but this information is necessary for the development of effective training and interventions. While the needs of traditional first responders have been studied, health care professionals are considered first responders and receivers, and the needs of health professionals need to be assessed.28 The current study begins to address this need through an assessment of first responders and first receivers who attended a statewide emergency preparedness training conference, "Can It Happen in Kansas?" Specifically, this report offers five questions. Without a substantial emphasis on mental health, when addressing emergency preparedness training, can trainees better ( 1 ) understand the mental health consequences of a terrorist event; (2) describe the importance of using psychological coping techniques to respond to terrorism; (3) identify the psychological causes of physical symptoms; (4) recognize the effect of terrorism on the mental health of individuals, families, communities, and the professionals who provide mental health services; and (5) understand the importance of including mental health into preparedness plans, immediately and three months following training (compared with pretraining) ? …

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