The Need for Disaster Psychiatry Care


Linda Chokroverty, MD, discusses the role psychiatrists play in managing the mental health effects of disasters, and how children specifically may be impacted.

As disaster-level events become more prevalent globally, a greater proportion of people are being exposed to potential trauma. From this trend has come a growing prevalence of disaster psychiatry—an informal focus of mental health care for decades that is becoming more vital.

In an interview with HCPLive during the American Psychiatric Association (APA) 2022 Annual Meeting in New Orleans, Linda Chokroverty, MD, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and pediatrics at Montefiore Health Systems and the Albert Einstein College Of Medicine, discussed the state of disaster psychiatry—a field which emerged about 40 years ago.

“It’s really a subset of psychiatry—but not necessarily so, because it involves regular psychiatrists most of the time,” Chokrovery said. “There’s some people who really become experts in the field and spend more time studying it. They would be more the specialists in the realm, but by and large, disasters are very common and increasing because of the climate situation.”

As Chokroverty explained, psychiatrists are often “inadvertently” providing aide in the event of disasters, which are capable of affecting anyone’s mental health regardless of their location or severity. Though Chokroverty and colleague’s session at APA 2022 focused on disaster psychiatry for children, the role of a family system in addressing pediatric mental health essentially makes the topic applicable to all parties.

Key symptoms of disaster-based psychiatric harm include anxiety, uncertainties about the future, fear, poor sleep health and a general sense of unease, Chokroverty said. “And that’s pretty normal, and part of our job as psychiatrists is to help people understand that…provided we do our best to resume routines and structure,” she said.

On the subject of improving affected children’s sleep, Chokroverty said it’s critical to consider a multitude of factors—from the sleep habits modeled by parents and guardians, to the resources any physician can provide that promote sleep health.

“Sleep is difficult to improve when you’ve had a lot of disruption, especially if you’ve had highly traumatic experiences,” she said. “It’s important still to try and maintain structure in the form of good sleep-promoting habits.”

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