Emergency managers draft health ministry guidelines

Associate Professor Sarb Johal and Zoe Mounsey from the Joint Centre for Disaster Research, who with colleague Carol MacDonald, worked on new Ministry of Health guidelines offering psychosocial support in an emergency.

New Ministry of Health guidelines for offering psychosocial support in emergencies have been drafted by members of the Joint Centre for Disaster Research based at Massey University’s Wellington campus.

Emergency managers at the centre, part of the School of Psychology, have been working since February on the guidelines for supporting psychological and social behaviour in a crisis situation.

The policy document Framework for Psychosocial Support in Emergencies acknowledges that all those involved in an emergency, whether it be a natural disaster, fire or pandemic, are likely to benefit from some form of psychosocial support.

Clinical psychologist Associate Professor Sarb Johal from the centre, who worked on the guidelines with colleagues Zoe Mounsey and Carol MacDonald, says for many people the distress they experience in an emergency can be eased with the care and support of families, whānau, friends and community. Others however will need more formal or professional intervention and a small proportion of people will need more specialised mental health services.

“The distinction is important as it influences the types of interventions that should be provided,” Dr Johal says.

The primary objectives of psychosocial recovery are to minimise the physical, psychological and social consequences of an emergency and to enhance the emotional, social and physical wellbeing of individuals, families, whānau and communities.

“Psychosocial recovery is not about returning to normality. It is about positively adapting to a changed reality. Recovery may last for an indeterminate period from weeks to decades,” he says.

Under the guidelines it states that the affected community’s participation and involvement during ongoing recovery is integral to building trust and engagement.

Dr Johal likens the psychosocial effects of emergencies to “ripples in a pond,” with consequences reaching out well beyond the main location of the event.

Psychosocial support must be the concern of all providers, locally, regionally and nationally, the guidelines state.

Effective psychosocial interventions require collaborative partnerships, careful planning, training and support for staff across all levels of relevant agencies, engaged and resilient communities, effective communication plus regular evaluation.

The Joint Centre for Disaster Research is a venture between Massey University and the crown research institute GNS Science.

Ministry of Health Director of Mental Health, Dr John Crawshaw, says the new psychosocial framework is informed by health sector and other agencies' responses to a range of disasters over the past few years.

“It ensures that all agencies have guidance that supports the revised welfare roles and responsibilities within the new National Civil Defence and Emergency Management Plan.”



Massey Contact Centre Mon - Fri 8:30am to 5:00pm 0800 MASSEY (+64 6 350 5701) TXT 5222 contact@massey.ac.nz Web chat Staff Alumni News Māori @ Massey