Use of mental health services among disaster survivors

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Purpose of review

A sizable proportion of individuals following a disaster develop mental health problems. The consequences of these disorders can be long lasting. Only recently has research focused on mental health service delivery following disasters. This review examines the rates, predictors, and barriers to mental health service utilization following a disaster.

Recent findings

Most of the data on mental health service delivery come from three sources: a fireworks disaster in The Netherlands, the September 11, 2001, attack on New York City, and hurricane Katrina. Most survivors of disasters are reluctant to utilize mental health services and face barriers to accessing care. Even among disaster victims who are severely mentally ill, only a minority receive treatment. Among those who do receive assistance, more than half drop out shortly thereafter. Mental health service utilization following a disaster is influenced by a set of predisposing characteristics, enabling resources, and perceived need. The model for mental healthcare delivery following a disaster that has gained acceptance is Psychological First Aid.


Research is evolving on mental health service utilization. It is limited however to developed countries, although most disasters occur in developing countries. More research is needed, particularly among populations with scarce resources.

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