Public health issues can be exacerbated during times of disaster, and in some instances, the spread of infectious disease or toxic exposure may be of grave concern. Likewise, mental health, wellness, and good nutrition are also compromised in the immediate aftermath of a crisis and in some cases, for years afterwards.

  • These special populations are at a higher risk than others post-disaster:
    • the elderly,
    • school-aged children,
    • individuals living with chronic illness,
    • individuals with visual, hearing, and/or mobility-impairments,
    • individuals living with depression or other forms of mental illness,
    • individuals with limited access to healthcare,
    • mothers (because they often puts the needs of everyone else in their family above their own),
    • individuals living at or below the poverty line,
    • immigrant populations and undocumented individuals, and
    • first responders, emergency services, fire and police department personnel.
  • In the aftermath of a natural disaster or man-made tragedy, mental health services will be needed for the general public, not only those with pre-disaster mental health issues.
  • The most prevalent mental health issue post-disaster is depression and depressive-like symptoms, with sleep problems being the most common symptoms reported.
  • Depressive-like symptoms are tied to domestic violence, substance abuse, and suicide.
  • People often minimize their personal mental health needs, are in denial about their anxiety and stress levels, or they want to help others instead.
  • Individuals wrongly compare themselves to others in their community — they think others are worse off and therefore don’t accept help because they think it will reduce the availability of services to their neighbors “who really need the help.”
  • A large percentage of people don’t seek help due to the stigmatization of mental health challenges.
  • Communities that have experienced serious trauma or major disasters, see an increase in PTSD symptoms and community mental health challenges 12 to 18 months post-disaster.


Innovative Practices

Philanthropy can implement and/or support programs that:

  • offer long-term psychological counseling and case management;
  • offer training programs for healthcare professionals;
  • convene community gatherings that foster social cohesion, reduce isolation, and recognize the shared experiences of community members both pre-and post-disaster;
  • support crisis counselors in schools, community centers, faith-based organizations, and local shops in order to reach people who are not seeking out mental health assistance but who are in fact experiencing PTSD symptoms;
  • support research, analysis, and education on health issues and mental health concerns post-disaster;
  • work with the media to raise the awareness of the prevalence of PTSD in the aftermath of a disaster via local television, radio and internet; educate the general public on the signs of depression (i.e. difficulty sleeping), and direct people to where they can get help;
  • support training and disaster preparedness for healthcare nonprofits, social service agencies, schools, and faith-based organizations;
  • foster collaborative, comprehensive approaches to pre-and post-disaster preparedness and response.

The health affects of a disaster reach into many areas of people's lives and often last for years afterwards.


Key Takeaways

  1. Philanthropy can make a tremendous impact in the long-run because it is the only formalized funding mechanism for mental health services after federal disaster funding of behavioral health programs close. FEMAFederal Emergency Management Agency’s Crisis Counseling Program is a short-term program (approximately 1 year).
  2. Long-term funding for mental health services and counseling programs is vitally important not only for the individuals impacted but for the community as a whole to recover.
  3. Education and awareness campaigns can help encourage individuals to take advantage of counseling programs.
  4. Media messaging that is appropriate and tailored to the specific impacted populations is extremely important. The more people know about available counseling programs, the more people will seek help.