January 28, 2011
Weighing The Costs Of Disaster: Consequences, Risks, And Resilience In Individuals, Families, And Communities
Disasters"”both natural and manmade"”can strike anywhere and they often hit without warning, so they can be difficult to prepare for. But what happens afterward? How do people cope following disasters? In a new report in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, George Bonanno, Chris R. Brewin, Krzysztof Kaniasty, and Annette M. La Greca review the psychological effects of disasters and why some individuals have a harder time recovering than do others.
Individuals exposed to disaster may experience a number of psychological problems including PTSD, grief, anxiety, and increased substance abuse, but the evidence shows that less than 30% of adults experience severe, lasting levels of these problems. The majority of people exposed to a disaster experience passing distress but return to psychological health. In other words, people tend to be psychologically resilient.
How can disaster survivors be helped? The most commonly used psychological intervention immediately following a disaster consists of a single session, known as critical incident stress debriefing (CISD). Although it is widely used, there is not much evidence supporting its effectiveness and multiple studies suggest it may actually be psychologically harmful. Less intrusive forms of immediate psychological aid may be useful, such as psychological first aid (PFA). PFA focuses on providing practical help to survivors and promoting a sense of safety, connectedness, and hope. PFA is promising, although more studies are needed to evaluate its effectiveness. Research suggests that psychological interventions following disasters may be most effective during short- and long-term recovery periods (1 month to several years postdisaster), especially when used in combination with screening for at-risk individuals.
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