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The Role of Public Health in Mental and Behavioral Health in Children and Families Following Disasters

Beaton, Randal D. PhD, EMT; Murphy, Shirley A. PhD, RN; Houston, J. Brian PhD; Reyes, Gilbert PhD; Bramwell, Suzette MN, RN, COHN-S; McDaniel, Michelle MBA, MHP; Reissman, Dori B. MD, MPH; Pfefferbaum, Betty MD, JD

Journal of Public Health Management & Practice:
doi: 10.1097/PHH.0b013e3181a8c307
Article
Abstract

Objectives: Children and youth have been shown to be vulnerable to negative mental and behavioral health consequences following mass disasters and terrorist attacks. The purpose of this article was to identify the primary roles and responsibilities of public health agencies and systems that both promote resiliency and reduce the mental health risks to children and their families following disastrous events.

Methods: The authors conducted a review and synthesis of public and mental health research literatures, resources, and policies focused on mental and behavioral health outcomes in children and families in the aftermath of disasters.

Results: The available research evidence supported the contention that children experience heightened psychosocial vulnerabilities and lasting psychosocial burdens following disasters. The major roles that public health organizations and systems can play to both prevent and deter such harmful mental and behavioral health impacts of disasters during all phases of the disaster cycle were identified.

Conclusions: The roles identified that public health organizations and systems can undertake included coordination and collaboration with various local and federal agencies, advocacy and promotion of community resilience, deterring harmful effects of disastrous events by assessment, screening, case finding and education, training of personnel, guiding interventions, formulating policy, and conducting research investigations.

In Brief

This article describes the role of public health in mental and behavioral health in children and families following disasters.

Author Information

Randal D. Beaton, PhD, EMT, is Research Professor, Schools of Nursing and Public Health and Community Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle. Dr Beaton is also on the faculty of the Northwest Center for Public Health Practice, University of Washington, Seattle. Dr Beaton is currently the PI for a training program in Disaster and Environmental Health Nursing.

Shirley A. Murphy, PhD, RN, is Professor Emeritus, School of Nursing, University of Washington, Seattle.

J. Brian Houston, PhD, is Assistant Professor of Research, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center (OUHSC), Oklahoma City, and is Program Director for the Terrorism and Disaster Center, OUHSC, Oklahoma City.

Gilbert Reyes, PhD, is Professor and Associate Dean, School of Psychology, Fielding Graduate University, Santa Barbara, California.

Suzette Bramwell, MN, RN, COHN-S, is an occupational health nurse at Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center, Seattle, Washington.

Michelle McDaniel, MBA, MHP, is Behavioral Health Planning Manager for the Preparedness Section of Public Health-–Seattle & King County, Washington.

Dori B. Reissman, MD, MPH, is Captain, U.S. Public Health Service and Senior Medical Advisor, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Washington, DC.

Betty Pfefferbaum, MD, JD, is Professor and Chair, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, University of Oklahoma College of Medicine, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Dr Pfefferbaum is Director of the Terrorism and Disaster Center of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network and Head of the Child Research Section of the National Center for Disaster Mental Health Research.

Corresponding Author: Randal D. Beaton, PhD, EMT, Department of Psychosocial & Community Health, School of Nursing, University of Washington, Box 357263, Seattle, WA 98195 (randyb@u.washington.edu).

Disclaimer: The findings and conclusions in this report are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institute for Nursing Research, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the Health Resources and Service Administration, or the US Public Health Service.

This work was supported by a National Institute of Mental Health, National Institute of Nursing Research, and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) grant (5 R25 MH070569-05) (Dr Pfefferbaum) as well as a cooperative agreement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) through the Association of Schools of Public Health (APSH) grant #U09/CCU024247-03 and an HRSA/AEN training grant 1D09HP08334-02 (Dr Beaton). The authors appreciate the support of the General Clinical Research Center at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.

© 2009 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.