Recommendations for Disaster Mental Health Research

By Heath, Melissa Allen | National Association of School Psychologists. Communique, May 2009 | Go to article overview

Recommendations for Disaster Mental Health Research


Heath, Melissa Allen, National Association of School Psychologists. Communique


Recommendations for Disaster Mental Health Research

Reviewed by: Melissa Allen Heath, NCSP, Associate Professor, Brigham Young University School Psychology Program, Licensed Psychologist (UT), and School Psychologist (UT)

Benight and McFarlane (2007) identify several challenges facing those who conduct research in the area of disaster mental health. In their article, "Challenges for Disaster Research: Recommendations for Planning and Implementing Disaster Mental Health Studies," they stress the importance of increasing the quality of research, in particular formulating solid research questions grounded in established theory.

Research questions must be carefully considered in advance of disasters and must be crafted to ensure that research advances knowledge, improves disaster planning, and refines the effectiveness of interventions for those impacted by disasters. From the authors1 viewpoint, to date, specific barriers have limited the complexity and sophistication of research in this critical area of study, subsequently limiting advancement of more effective disaster mental health services. Although Benight and McFarlane (2007) do not mention schools or children in their article, their major points serve as guidelines for those conducting research related to school-based crisis intervention. Several of their points, modified to fit the specific needs of schools, are highlighted in the following paragraphs.

Ask questions in advance. Previous literature must be carefully considered across disciplines, ferreting out details related to selected research questions. In advance of a disaster, those involved in research planning must ask questions focused on improving services. These questions arise from anticipated needs. Therefore consulting with others who have experienced similar difficulties or who have conducted similar research helps refine research questions. Caution must be taken in disregarding older research. In fact, referring to Norris (2005), the authors noted that some of the more rigorous studies are older studies.

Carefully consider ethical limitations. All research must be especially sensitive to ethical considerations. Those impacted by disaster, particularly children, are identified as a vulnerable population. Additionally, preexisting stressors and ongoing emotional and physical trauma escalate the vulnerability of children, families, and communities. …

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