For our next post in our series on emergency preparedness and people with disabilities, published in partnership with our colleagues at AbleData, we are highlighting resources and information for people with psychiatric disabilities. Although there are many sample planning templates and checklists available to guide them, people with mental health conditions are in the best position to know their needs and abilities before, during, and after a disaster and their plans and kits must reflect their own unique circumstances.
It is important to plan and prepare ahead of emergencies and disasters and that should include speaking with your medical team about your unique needs and the resources that may help you best during an emergency. Using key principles from National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) Emergency Evacuation Planning Guide for People with Disabilities, the following resources can be helpful for people with mental health conditions, their families, and emergency responders to plan and prepare. However, these resources are not a replacement to speaking with your medical team.
- Create an individualized preparedness plan that meets your specific needs. Include support staff and personal support networks in any emergency preparedness plan you create. Some individuals may benefit from occasional practice of evacuation routes and emergency drills, while others may find this stressful.
- Ensure you have enough medication to last through an event and that it is stored appropriately. Medication holders and medication reminder products can be helpful. Don’t forget to include dosage information.
- Therapeutic aids such as weighted blankets, headphones, or other audio sensory integration aids may help reduce loud noises and assist in staying calm during an emergency and/or evacuation. A sensory first aid kit can provide comfort for some people, specifically those with sensory sensitivities, during emergencies.
- The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has several useful resources for people with mental health conditions, their families, and first responders such as:
- Tip sheets in English and Spanish for survivors with and without mental health conditions, healthcare practitioners and responders, and families on how to plan for and cope with emergency situations.
- A behavioral health treatment services locator, a confidential and anonymous source of information for persons seeking treatment centers for substance use/addiction and/or mental health issues.
- A Disaster Distress Helpline that provides crisis counseling and support to people experiencing emotional distress related to natural or human-caused disasters. This service is available 24 hours a day, all year long and is available for Spanish speakers with mental health conditions and their families who are affected by a disaster.
- People with mental health conditions may experience a crisis during a disaster itself or during evacuation. It is important to have a wellness recovery action plan before a disaster or emergency occurs. A psychiatric advance directive is a legal tool that allows a person with mental illness to state their preferences for treatment in advance of a crisis. These documents can serve as a way to protect a person’s autonomy and ability to self-direct care.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides resources to help you, your family and first responders cope with a disaster or traumatic event.
- If you or someone you love is a Veteran that has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has several apps that may be of help to you and your loved ones before, during and after an emergency, including the PTSD Coach app, the PTSD Family Coach app, CPT Coach app which focuses on cognitive processing therapy (CPT), and several other mobile apps.
- The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry has created an info sheet full of resources that include links, lists of books, FAQs, clinical articles, videos, and related information on helping children and adolescents cope with emergencies, disasters, trauma, and other similar events.
For emergency planners, centers for independent living, mental health groups, and other organizations working in emergency preparedness, there are several tools and resources available to help in incorporating considerations for people with psychiatric disabilities.
- Individuals with psychiatric disabilities may have difficulty comprehending evacuation messages and other essential communications and may benefit from personal assistance and direction. Information and instructions, before, during, and after an emergency scenario, should be short and concise, use the simplest possible language, and incorporate pictures such as universal symbols and/or color-coded escape routes/areas of assistance.
- Mark Salzer, PhD, principal investigator for the Temple University Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Community Living and Participation for Individuals with Psychiatric Disabilities, previously developed the Disaster Community Support Network of Philadelphia, a Program of the Mental Health Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania to create settings in which self-help and mutual aid can occur in response to a traumatic community-wide event. The lessons of the DCSN are broadly applicable to communities around the country. The manual is available for communities wishing to set up their own network (PDF).
- SAMHSA’s Disaster Technical Assistance Center (DTAC) supports states, territories, and tribes in delivering effective behavioral health response to disasters.
- SAMHSA also provides a Behavioral health Disaster Response Mobile App that is designed to assist responders to disasters in ensuring that they have resources available at their fingertips as they assist people with mental health conditions.
- The CDC also offers planning resources for state and local governments and response resources for community leaders.
- TRACIE is a healthcare emergency preparedness information gateway from the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for healthcare entities and providers, municipalities, emergency mangers, and others working in public health emergency preparedness. TRACIE includes collection of articles, resources, and must reads for people with mental health conditions and their families to help them prepare and plan for emergencies and disasters.
- Whenever possible, emergency planners should engage with the disability and mental health advocacy community during preparedness sessions. Inclusive emergency preparedness begins with making a seat at the table for everyone who may be impacted.
Over the years, NIDILRR has funded research projects on emergency preparation and safety for people with disabilities. We looked at the history of these research projects and the newest efforts funded by NIDILRR in Inclusive Disaster Preparedness – Progress Made, Progress to Come, part of our NIDILRR at 40 series.
NARIC’s information specialists searched REHABDATA and found over 25 articles from the NIDILRR community and beyond on psychiatric disabilities, mental health, and emergency preparation. These articles include:
- The roles of peer specialists before disasters strike: Helping people with mental conditions prepare for disasters: Trainer’s guide provides information for peer specialists to help them assist people with mental health conditions in preparing for natural or manmade disasters. This guide was designed by the NIDILRR-funded Temple University Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Community Living and participation of Individuals with Psychiatric Disabilities (TU Collaborative) to increase the degree in which people with mental health conditions have planned to meet their needs if a disaster should strike and suggests that peer specialists can play an important role in helping people with psychiatric disabilities be better prepared for and respond to disasters.
- The article, Mental health service utilization among natural disaster survivors with perceived need for services, discusses a study that looked at several factors as predictors of mental health service use among survivors of a disaster with a perceived need for services. The results of this study indicated that more general stressors and insurance coverage were factors that predicted service use among participants with a perceived need. These results suggest that expanded access to services that do not require insurance coverage may better address the mental health needs after for survivors of a disaster.
- We previously explored psychological first aid and research on mental health in disasters in our blog.
If you would like to learn more about emergency preparedness and people with mental health conditions, please contact NARIC’s information specialists.
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