Populations feel the effects of large-scale natural disasters long after the immediate aftermath. Rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after a disaster can be as high as 40 percent, and, while the symptoms fade with time for most people, nearly a quarter of cases can be chronic and severe. Previous research has shown that lower-income people and people who are economically harmed by a disaster, such as by losing their home, are most likely to develop PTSD.
But helping individuals restore economic resources and housing after a natural disaster would significantly reduce the mental health burden in the population, according to a new simulation study led by Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) researchers.
The study, published in The Lancet Planetary Health, tested a social services case management approach to disaster relief, where caseworkers at shelters would provide expedited access to personal loans and mental health services. The researchers saw a nearly two- to six-fold reduction in PTSD cases one year after the disaster.
“Meeting the social services needs of people exposed to a natural disaster would significantly benefit their mental health in post-disaster contexts,” says lead study author Mr. Gregory Cohen, statistical analyst in epidemiology at BUSPH. “Policy makers could likely improve post-disaster systems of mental health care by focusing on a broader set of contextual treatment targets, and leveraging a range of service providers and funding sources, such as block grants.”
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