Disasters 'especially tough on people with disabilities, mental disorders'

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Washington, Aug 29 (ANI): A new study has highlighted that disaster response strategies should address the needs of the population affected, specifically those with disabilities and mental disorders, as they take more time to overcome them.

Research conducted in the aftermaths of the Oklahoma City bombing and Hurricane Katrina also showed that the type of disaster could have a distinct effect on how people respond psychologically.

"Katrina taught us a harsh lesson about the plight of vulnerable people in times of disaster and national emergency," said Timothy Elliott of Texas A and M University.

"Solutions to these problems won't be provided by any single profession or service, which is why this special section brings together colleagues from psychology, special education and rehabilitation administration to provide information that will help us find solutions," Elliott said.

In a study looking at Hurricane Katrina victims, researchers focused on survivors with a wide range of disabilities. Nearly two years after the storm, they surveyed and interviewed disaster case managers and supervisors who provided services to 2,047 individuals with disabilities and their families through the Katrina Aid Today project.

They found that considerable barriers to housing, transportation and disaster services were still present two years after the storm. For example, they found that survivors with disabilities were less likely to own homes than survivors without disabilities.

People with disabilities were also less likely to be employed, which affected their ability to pay utility bills or purchase furniture when they did transition to more permanent housing.

Individuals with disabilities were more likely to have medical needs, which affected their ability to travel to service agencies or get jobs. Case management with the survivors with disabilities was seen as taking longer because these people needed assistance in multiple areas.

"Case managers who are knowledgeable about the needs of people with disabilities are essential when navigating an already difficult service system following a disaster of this magnitude," said the study's lead author, Laura Stough from Texas A and M University.

Another analysis focused on two different studies - one examining the bombing's survivors and the other Hurricane Katrina evacuees. The Oklahoma City study assessed 182 survivors six months after the bombing. The Hurricane Katrina study sampled 421 people who had been evaluated in a mental health clinic at a Dallas shelter for Katrina evacuees.

Of the Oklahoma City bombing survivors, the most common psychiatric diagnosis was post-traumatic stress disorder, with 34 percent of participants suffering from the problem.

The second most common psychiatric diagnosis was major depression. Most of the participants, 87 percent, were injured in the bombing; 20 percent of those had to be hospitalized.

"Interventions to address unmet treatment needs for an abundance of pre-existing and persistent psychiatric illness would not have been the primary response needed for Oklahoma City survivors," said the study's lead author, Carol North of University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.

The findings were published in a special section of Rehabilitation Psychology. (ANI)

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