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May 2011
WPA Contribution to the Management of Mental Health Consequences of Major Disasters

The WPA contribution to the management of mental health consequences of major disasters has two components: a) training and sensitization of psychiatrists; b) intervention when a major disaster occurs.

The first component is being implemented through a series of train-the-trainers workshops and sensitization courses.

The train-the-trainers workshops aim to train psychiatrists of the various regions of the world (with a special focus on those at highest risk) to deal with the mental health consequences of disasters, so that they can become themselves trainers for other mental health professionals in their regions and represent a resource for their countries when a new disaster occurs.

The first of these train-the-trainers workshops was co-organized with the World Health Organization in Geneva in July 2009. Among the participants were psychiatrists who subsequently had a leading role in dealing with the mental health consequences of disasters in their countries, including Yuriko Suzuki (who is currently coordinating mental health interventions in the prefecture of Sendai, Japan) and Unaiza Niaz (who coordinated mental health efforts on the occasion of a recent disaster in Pakistan). Further train-the-trainers workshops took place in Bangladesh, China, Russia, Egypt, Brazil and Argentina.

Sensitization courses aim to call the attention of psychiatrists worldwide to the mental health consequences of disasters and to update them about strategies of prevention and intervention. These courses are taking place on the occasion of all major WPA meetings.

The second component of the WPA strategy is being implemented in different ways, depending on the peculiarities of the various disasters.

In 2010, on the occasion of the Haiti emergency, the WPA partnered with its Member Societies and relevant Scientific Sections and with the World Health Organization in recruiting psychiatrists who were well trained, able to speak French and Creole, and willing to spend a prolonged period of time in the area of the emergency. A report by Dr. Kent Ravenscroft, who was recruited through this mechanism and served for many months in Haiti, is available on this website.

This year, on the occasion of the Japan emergency, the WPA is partnering with the Japanese Society of Psychiatry and Neurology in building up an intervention and research project focusing on the nuclear component of the disaster, which is going to be funded by the Japanese government. Dr. Evelyn Bromet, a prominent international expert of mental health consequences of nuclear disasters, is acting as an advisor in the preparation of the project. Two papers on this initiative appear in the June 2011 issue of World Psychiatry.

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