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Organizations Providing Mental Healthcare
After natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes and floods, most survivors focus on physical needs first, such as food, water, shelter and electricity. However, psychological needs are just as important. This leads to the need for mental health relief and psychological first aid that addresses the initial mental health needs of survivors of natural disasters. Here is some information about the situation in six different places along with the organizations providing mental health care amidst natural disasters.

Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico is an island commonwealth located in the tropics and near a fault line that places it at risk for flooding rains, tropical cyclones and earthquakes. In 2017, hurricanes Irma and Maria affected the island chain, with the latter being one of the island’s most devastating storms in history. With health care workers leaving the island after the storm, resources squeezed tight, electricity out and pharmacies closed, issues such as anxiety, increased suicide rates and PTSD became heightened. After the storm, one-fifth of all residents were in need of mental health care. People leaving the island put a further strain on available health care resources, including mental health services. Predictions have determined that about 600,000 people will leave Puerto Rico by 2023. Additionally, about 7% of children met the criteria for PTSD.

While progress in building the mental health infrastructure has been slow since Maria, the island has made progress. When Hurricane Maria hit, the storm knocked out power to almost the entire island. According to The American Psychological Association, Hurricane Maria disrupted half of the island’s cellphone service and most internet connections. Pharmacies closed, meaning antidepressants were unavailable. Some rural towns experienced complete isolation so mental health professionals were unable to reach people in need. Moreover, staff with the Puerto Rico Psychological Association did not have full training prior to Hurricane Irma, and Hurricane Maria made PRPA aware of the various needs. Immediately after the storm, the PRPA sent psychologists to disaster areas, set up triage and provided counseling to people in need. The big things they focused on were listening to people’s stories of survival and focusing on a positive future outlook.

Organizations Providing Mental Health Care in Puerto Rico

Save The Children established the Journey of Hope project, and the organization worked to keep children on track through education, an important opportunity to support emotional wellbeing, in addition to coping with loss and anxiety. In the year after the storm, the project helped over 1,600 children. The Hispanic Federation provided solar lamps to people who lost power after the earthquakes since power outages triggered PTSD in Hurricane Maria survivors. The Hispanic Federation also teamed up with the University of San Juan to provide mental health services to people in both rural and urban areas. Direct Relief provided counselors and medications and hosted a workshop to address mental health needs.

Dominica

Hurricane Maria also caused widespread devastation on the Caribbean island nation of Dominica. As with Puerto Rico, the storm caused catastrophic damage on the island. International Medical Corps, together with the Dominica Psychological Society and IsraAid, designed and hosted 15 one-day workshops with over 200 leaders between December 2017 and February 2018, where they learned about psychological first aid. The community leaders who participated in the workshop came from various NGOs, local government councils throughout the island and ministries in the government, including The Ministry of Health. In addition, the organizations hosted workshops for art-based psychological first aid.

Bahamas

The Caribbean Development Bank provided $1 million to the island chain nation after Hurricane Dorian to address the mental health needs of residents. This came after the organization announced a broader initiative with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) to provide counseling assistance, citing the need to address the link between natural disasters and mental health. International Medical Corps assisted the Bahamas Ministry of Health by providing mental health and psychosocial support services. Because individuals tend to focus on food, water and shelter needs first, issues such as anxiety, PTSD and depression could be major long-term health crises, since most people on the affected islands lost their homes or loved ones. As a result, the organization sent mental health counselors to Grand Bahama Island, trained officials in psychological first aid and supported community-based mental health initiatives.

India

The National Institute of Mental Health and Neurological Sciences in Bengaluru assisted flood victims in Kodagu after floods affected the region in 2018. A team of experts, which included psychiatrists and psychologists, went to the region where they trained people on the ground to help with local mental health needs and communication. Additionally, volunteer groups created the Kerala Floods Mental Health Support Group to connect survivors of the floods. In India, there are few resources that go to mental health care. A 2015 World Health Organization (WHO) report found that there were only three psychiatrists per million people, while the National Programme for Mental Health received less than one-tenth of 1% of the 2017-2018 budget.

Indonesia

After the 2018 Sulawesi earthquake and tsunami killed over 4,000 people, IsraAid provided mental health services and supportive activities to the communities the disaster affected. These included training individuals in the community to cope with and learn about the long-term effects of trauma. Doctors Without Borders partook in similar efforts, training volunteers on the ground to reach at-risk and remote communities. UNICEF worked to address the mental health needs of children, helping 4,500 at 60 different places through psychosocial support. More than 10,000 psychosocial kits went to children and teachers.

Southeast Africa

Cyclone Idai made landfall in Madagascar in March 2019, causing torrential flooding in Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi and killing more than 1,300 people. In Zimbabwe, UNICEF and Childline Zimbabwe and the Regional Psychosocial Support Initiative provided counseling to the children the cyclone affected. The organizations also established a shelter at Ngangu Primary School to cater to the victims’ material and psychosocial needs. Near Chimanimani, UNICEF worked with eight different organizations to provide counseling and psychosocial support to those the disaster affected.

In Mozambique, more than 31,000 children received psychosocial support through UNICEF after Idai and Cyclone Kenneth, which impacted the country a month later. In Beira, Mozambique, Doctors Without Borders provided counseling to the storm survivors and health care workers, and also trained psychologists on psychological first aid. Additionally, the organization undertook a public health campaign to talk about the symptoms of trauma related to the cyclone and the flooding it caused in Buzi. Meanwhile, UNICEF reached 10,000 children in Malawi through an initiative that provided opportunities for psychosocial support.

Closing Remarks

Future efforts by organizations providing mental health care will need to focus on community-based efforts and in collaboration with local figures. These modes of care will need to be integrated into the healthcare infrastructure and focus on long-term outcomes.

– Bryan Boggiano
Photo: Flickr

Charities Providing Aid During Disastrous Hurricanes
After the hurricane season in 2004, Science Magazine published a paper about the increasing intensity of hurricanes over the years. The number of category four and five hurricanes have increased by 80 percent in the past 30 years. The paper titled, Changes in Tropical Cyclone Number, Duration, and Intensity in a Warming Environment, links the rise in storms to increasing sea surface temperatures. The authors, led by the National Center of Atmospheric Research, concluded that “global data indicate a 30-year trend toward more frequent and intense hurricanes.” In recent years, the world has seen the serious aftermath of these chaotic hurricanes. Luckily, there have been numerous charities providing aid during disastrous hurricanes.

Hurricane Irma, ICNA Relief and Project C.U.R.E

In 2017, two hurricanes made their way into the headlines: Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria. Hurricane Irma, classified as a category five hurricane, devastated a string of small Caribbean islands. Irma’s eye touched Barbuda, destroying 95 percent of the buildings on the island. The hurricane hit southwest Florida on September 10. When it left the following Tuesday, Irma had flooded major cities including Jacksonville, Florida and Charleston, South Carolina. It left millions without power. Thankfully, several charities came to provide support.

One of the charities during the disastrous hurricane was ICNA Relief. Its disaster relief team was one of the first responders after Hurricane Irma made landfall. Its mission was to assist the people by cleaning out the homes that fierce winds damaged. A couple of days later, it assisted the flooded homes. Another charity was Project C.U.R.E and for every dollar peopled donated, it provided $20 worth of life-saving medical supplies and equipment. A week and a half later, Hurricane Maria struck the Caribbean before it could complete reparations and restoration for Hurrican Irma.

Hurricane Maria, the Hispanic Federation and the International Relief Team

After making landfall on the Caribbean island of Dominica, Hurricane Maria landed on the U.S. territory, Puerto Rico. With strong, damaging winds, Maria pummeled through infrastructure and left Puerto Rico without electricity for months. To this day, Puerto Rico has not fully recovered after the disastrous hurricane. It has been the second-costliest hurricane in the history of the United States, just after Hurricane Katrina. Since it made landfall, relief efforts have continued to deliver much needed short and long term support to the people of Puerto Rico.

One of the biggest charities to provide assistance for Hurricane Maria was the Hispanic Federation, which managed to transport emergency first responders and 7.4 million pounds of food and essentials during the devastating months after the hurricane. Another charity worth mentioning is the International Relief Team. It provided more than 2,000 large, heavy-duty tarps to provide shelter and protect families from the blazing sun and frequent rainfalls, which is further proof of charities providing aid during disastrous hurricanes. A year later, charities became necessary as Hurricane Michael blew away infrastructure.

Hurricane Michael

In October 2018, Hurricane Michael, classified as a category five, made landfall in the Florida Panhandle. It was the first significantly damaging hurricane in the area. One of the hardest-hit locations was from Mexico Beach to Indian Pass where people observed nine to 14 feet of peak storm surge inundation. On Cape San Blas, the storm surge cut through a peninsula, creating two inlets. The hurricane heavily damaged or completely destroyed numerous homes close to the coast as the water slammed against the structures. Amid the chaos, different charities came up to share the burden.

Charities Aiding in the Aftermath

The Samaritan’s Purse deployed more than 300 volunteers to the area where it cleared downed trees and debris whilst tarping roofs. Because of the damage in infrastructure, a lot of health clinics and shelters suffered. Americares delivered 61 shipments of medicine, medical supplies, hygiene supplies and other relief items to local health facilities in relief efforts.

Charities providing aid during disastrous hurricanes have made a significant impact. They have provided people with support physically and emotionally after these traumatic events. With Hurricane Dorian recently threatening the East Coast and the Bahamas, one has to be thankful for those volunteers that have managed to help those people in need as these strong hurricanes become more frequent.

– Andrea Viera
Photo: Flickr