Expert Panel to Study Disasters' Mental Health Impacts

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said it is asking a group of national experts to develop recommendations within six months for "protecting, preserving and restoring individual and community mental health in catastrophic events." The goal is to lessen substance use and health problems, such as stress, insomnia, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, which increase during and after disasters and other public health and medical emergencies.

"The long-term goal is to enhance capability at the federal, state, tribal, and local levels for addressing the psychological consequences of disasters," said Dr. Daniel Dodgen, director of the Office for At Risk Individuals, Behavioral Health, and Human Services Coordination, which is part of the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response. He is executive director of the new Disaster Mental Health Subcommittee of the agency's National Biodefense Science Board.

"We all can experience psychological consequences during and after a disaster, and there are things that can be done to mitigate these effects and improve our overall response and recovery," said Iowa Department of Public Health Medical Director Dr. Patricia Quinlisk, who chairs the board.

After the Disaster Mental Health Subcommittee submits its recommendations, the board will make recommendations to the HHS secretary. The board was set up at the direction of the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act of 2006 to advise the secretary on preparation and response to chemical, biological, nuclear, and radiological health emergencies. For information about the board and the subcommittee, visit www.hhs.gov/aspr/omsph/nbsb/.

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