On average, a major disaster occurs every day somewhere in the world. There are many, many more minor disasters and incidents and other traumatic events. Typically, the news media, whether international, national, regional or local, focus on events that are disastrous to some group of people.
These kinds of events challenge us if we are involved directly or because we know someone who is, and the suffering, distress and worry, in other words the psychosocial price and the mental health consequences may be huge. However, there is another side to disasters; they may bring out the best in societies, portray the enormous altruism of most people and groups of people, and show their great personal psychosocial resilience and the resilience of families and other collectives. At the most positive end of this spectrum, some people even describe ‘post-traumatic growth’ that appears to be independent of their distress and suffering at the time and afterwards.
Better understanding the psychosocial and mental health aspects of disasters, major incidents, war and terrorism, including how people experience both extreme events and the smaller and less recognised challenges of life describes a stream of work that is now core to WIHSC’s portfolio. We have created relationships within the university with its cross-faculty initiative that has already seen creation of a chair in disaster studies. Also, we have forged alliances with other academic institutions and service agencies to research this field.
We are working with and advising several governments about their contingency policies and the countries’ preparedness, sustainable workforce development, and communication with and preparation of communities prior to, during and after events. We are researching the nature of psychosocial resilience and how societies can strengthen and assist people, families and communities before events and support them better in their recovery afterwards. We have worked with an international group to identity the principles of good and effective post-disaster psychosocial and mental healthcare. We have made substantial contributions to the following reports, Psychosocial Care for People affected by Disasters and Major Events and Principles for Disaster and Major Incident Psychosocial care.
We will post updates on our work on this site from time to time.
Written by Richard Williams, Professor of Mental Health Strategy