Public health emergencies and disasters often have unique challenges that require flexible solutions. Different disasters and emergencies necessitate different health service needs, depending on who they impact and how.

Emergencies and disasters are typically unexpected, often highlighting one or more public systems that have failed to support the public's needs. Public health systems can anticipate at least one disaster if one has not already occurred, especially with changing temperatures due to climate change and growing population.

Exposure to disasters, including hurricanes, fires, floods, and contagious disease outbreaks, can severely affect many individuals' mental health, which can add to the rising needs of services that are already stretched thin.

During times of crisis, it is critical that mental health professionals, including psychiatric nurses and psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs), provide services immediately after the event. Populations exposed to traumatic events frequently experience anxiety, depression, grief, and mental stress. It is not uncommon for people to attempt to regulate their mental disorders through alcohol and substance abuse. If mental health professionals cannot make themselves available physically - for instance, due to road closures after a natural disaster - telehealth options can be utilized to ensure that patients are able to access care quickly.

RELATED: MSN in Public Health Programs

According to studies, "mental health and psychosocial support programs are increasingly a standard component of humanitarian response." Globally, mental health systems struggle to provide the same level of care across the board. Therefore, it remains critical that a generic plan of care is created and followed so that mental health care access remains viable throughout any disaster or crisis.

Following an emergency or natural disaster, it is normal for mental health administrators to be overextended. Through careful planning, implementation, and community efforts, clinics can apply trauma knowledge to their communities. Survivors of natural disasters must get the PTSD care they need, along with other mental health needs.

According to PHE.gov, exposure to trauma can be linked to ongoing general health needs after a disaster, even for many years after the event. Many studies have found that trauma often impacts many mental health concepts including "cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, and neurological illness, as well as psychiatric diagnoses such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, and substance abuse disorders."

Psychiatric nurses and other trained professionals can go through shelters and facilities to provide mental health aid. They can also engage in outreach programs and patient education to aid in the recovery of survivors. By providing active and kind listening and support, professionals can ascertain the full needs of the community.

Amanda Bucceri Androus, RN, BSN
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