Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Managing your mental health during a disaster

According to a recent article from the Mayo Clinic widespread disease such as an Avian flu outbreak, can cause mental health issues for those who have to live through the trauma. But, how would you cope with an existing mental health issue when disaster breaks out and health care services are disrupted?

Here are some coping strategies:

1. Plan ahead.

Talk to your health professional - some points you may want to talk about include getting to the clinic, changing appointment locations, how you can care for yourself or even general concern about the psychological effects of a disaster.

Have an emergency survival kit - be sure it is stocked and you kow where it is.

Have a contact network - make sure people know to check on you.

2. Managing medications during disaster.

Have a buffer supply - keep at least a 5-day supply. Remember you may not be able to get a refill immediately. Phone lines may be down and pharmacies closed or you may not be able to travel. Be sure to talk to your health insurance provider in advance about prescription refill requirements.

3. Managing therapy during a disaster.

Plan for disruption - prepare yourself now for possible closures so that you don't run into unpleasant surprises. Consider talking to your therapist now about possibly trying to connect by phone or email.

Call on your skills - if you can't get to a therapy session, then use that time to reflect on what you've learned in therapy. Remember the healthy coping tools you've learned and problem solving skills you've gained. Use positive self-talk to help chase away negative thoughts.

Do your own version of group therapy - if you attend group therapy, consider talking to the group about disaster planning.

4. Self-care strategies during a disaster.

Get in touch with disaster workers - remember that health care professionals are trained in disaster management. Hospitals and clinics have disaster plans in place.

Touch base with others - if possible, talk to family, friends, faith groups and others who can offer you help, comfort and support. People can work together to solve problems and encourage each other. Let them know if you need help.

Help someone else - if you're able, then lend a hand to someone who is less fortunate. This can give you a huge morale boost and make you feel better about yourself, besides helping the other person.

Build skills for resilience - people who are resilient can weather hardships and stress better than those who aren't. Even if you're coping with depression, anxiety or any other mental condition, you can still be resilient. Some ways to build this, may be by developing a strong support network, having goals, thinking well of yourself and remaining flexible.

Keep a positive frame of mind - look for the small nuggets of hope and good things during a disaster. This can help you find meaning and purpose, help you think positively about the future and help you function even in the worse of times.

One of the ironic things about disaster is that they have the potential to bring out the best in people. You may also see people helping each other in ways you never thought possible - the world may not seem so uncaring after all.

For additional information on Pandemic preparedness from a business continuity perspective, please feel free to contact Pitsel & Associates Ltd. Calgary, Alberta, (403) 245-0550. “The time to plan is when you have time to plan.”

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