I need some to responds to my classmates disscsion and there are 3 posts so it will be three responses
What do you think it takes to be a qualitatively effective Disaster Mental Health responder?
- What kinds of character traits and skills seem necessary?
Taking a self-inventory, my initial mental picture is of a person who is skilled at listening more than they talk. When this person talks, they refrain from offering advice or a competing story of hardship. The desired character traits in the DMH responder are similar, if not the same, as those in all disaster responders: calm under stress, flexible, a good communicator, and possessing knowledge from experience (King et al., 2016). I imagine the additional traits accompanying these skills are likely a person who doesn’t have a large ego and easily empathizes.
The person that excels in the role of DMH responder is likely dependable, does what they say, and is open to sharing with clearly announced limits on what is too personal. It was interesting to read Patton, Smith, and Lilienfield (2017), whose research suggests that first responders share character traits that overlap with psychopathy, more so than the general public. First responders exhibit a degree of disinhibition and boldness to place themselves into a risk-heavy situation but obviously with the goal of prosocial outcomes instead of the antisocial ends of psychopaths (Patton et al., 2017).
- What kinds of character traits and even skill sets might present barriers to being effective?
A lack of self-awareness is a trait I believe would be a considerable barrier in a DMH responder. As I see it, the missing introspection works in a two-fold effect, the first distorting the perception of your effectiveness. Siems (2016) interviewed survivors from Katrina and September 11th, determining that the respondents who considered themselves an authority, a person who directed other people in the event, scored high on a test designed to highlight people who overestimate their ability.
The second issue is that there is no consideration that you, as a DMH responder, are just as vulnerable to negative stressors. The stressors include the macro level of the overall aftermath of a disaster combined with the micro level of attempting to establish a therapeutic relationship with people under duress. Contact with survivors can precipitate distress in disaster responders (Halpern & Tramontin, 2007). It is important to note that first responders have a higher rate of depression and PTSD when compared to the general U.S. population (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration [SAMSHA], 2018). SAMSHA defines first responders as police, fire, and EMS, excluding the military (2018).
- Now, consider if you were in this role. What traits or skills do you think you possess that would be helpful in it? Or, for what role do you see yourself better suited? Do you feel that there would be certain aspects of that role that might be especially challenging for you personally?
I would consider it a challenge to work in the role of a DMH responder. The reputation of an ED RN being light and fast on their feet is well deserved. I definitely would seek out a direct medical care role over behavioral care in a disaster. Internally, I would feel more value if I had tasks “to do” in place of listening. I also think I would have difficulty stopping myself from trying, in some part, to medicalize or explain away someone’s grief.
The aspect of the role I would find the most challenging is my lack of experience working in a declared disaster. It sounds funny to me to write it out, as I have worked and lived through Superstorm Sandy, but I view it as just an inconvenient time. Through my reading, I have developed the concern that I “don’t know what I don’t know,” which can place me at risk of overestimating my skills.
The overall picture, to me, echoes Pfefferbaum et al. (2012), Halpern and Tramontin (2007), and SAMHSA (2018) in that the role of the DMH responder should be present at all levels in the disaster response, regardless if it is a local, state, federal, public, or private organization.
Halpern, J., & Tramontin, M. (2007). Disaster mental health: Theory and practice. Belmont, CA: Thomson Brooke/Cole.
King, R. V., Larkin, G. L., Fowler, R. L., Downs, D. L., & North, C. S. (2016). Characteristics of effective disaster responders and leaders: A survey of disaster medical practitioners. Disaster medicine and public health preparedness, 10(5), 720–723. https://doi.org/10.1017/dmp.2016.24
Patton, C. L., Smith, S. F., & Lilienfeld, S. O. (2017). Psychopathy and Heroism in First Responders: Traits Cut From the Same Cloth?. Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/per0000261
Pfefferbaum, B., Flynn, B. W., Schonfeld, D., Brown, L. M., Jacobs, G. A., Dodgen, D., Donato, D., Kaul, R. E., Stone, B., Norwood, A. E., Reissman, D. B., Herrmann, J., Hobfoll, S. E., Jones, R. T., Ruzek, J. I., Ursano, R. J., Taylor, R. J., & Lindley, D. (2012). The integration of mental and behavioral health into disaster preparedness, response, and recovery. Disaster medicine and public health preparedness, 6(1), 60–66. https://doi.org/10.1001/dmp.2012.1 (Links to an external site.)
Siems, J. W. (2016). Disaster threat and the Dunning-Kruger effect (master’s thesis). Retrieved from Homeland Security Library Database. (798825)
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2018). First responders: Behavioral health concerns, emergency response, and trauma [Supplemental Material]. https://www.samhsa.gov/sites/default/files/dtac/supplementalresearchbulletin-firstresponders-may2018.pdf (Links to an external site.)
Disaster mental health involves giving stress management, substance abuse, and mental health services such as therapy and counseling to responders and survivors of disasters. Effective disaster mental health responders are professionals who can provide such services by helping survivors emotionally through guidance and support (Halpern & Vermeulen, 2017). Hence, the professional should legitimize the coping capacities and health aspects of the survivors beforehand. Consequently, this means that survivors are viewed as capable people that can realign their lives once helped with respect, knowledge, and sensitivity.
Characteristics required by disaster responders are not limited to the skills and knowledge involved in disaster training. However, disaster/command knowledge is highly required to ensure flexibility and adaptability under various disaster situations. Having the necessary training on responding to a sudden catastrophe is essential since it ensures immediate help and response without panic. Also, it helps individuals remain cool, calm, and collected under stress, which makes it easy to help the survivors. Decision-making and problem-solving skills are highly required since various challenges occur when helping survivors (Halpern & Vermeulen, 2017). Others may be completely traumatized, and hence responders should be able to make decisions and solve problems quickly before a situation escalates.
Moreover, effective communication skills are necessary to help responders and survivors communicate efficiently during therapy, counseling, or holding normal conversations. This helps create a better understanding of the person and situation, making it easier to give the best remedies. Lastly, personal character is highly essential since it displays attitudes towards challenges and activities. Hence, a positive character can help achieve better results and help disaster survivors.
There are negative skills and character traits that may present barriers to effective disaster response. First, a negative attitude may lead to frustration and failure (King et al., 2019). When dealing with survivors, they can easily identify negative energy, hindering them from opening up and accepting the necessary support. Also, fear and lack of self-control are negative traits that may cause anxiety, thus hindering success and limiting the set goals and objectives. When responders face a disaster situation with fear, it becomes difficult to achieve anything. Lastly, lack of adequate disaster response skills such as communication, teamwork, and problem-solving may hinder success since they are highly required when responding to emergencies.
If I were a disaster mental health responder, I would be of help due to my ability to work under pressure, make effective decisions, and work as a team. Working in collaboration helps achieve success since different people have various opinions that can help in disasters. Teamwork also fosters learning and creativity, unites complementary strengths, creates trust, and encourages healthy risk-taking (King et al., 2019). However, the main aspect in this role that would be challenging to me is remaining courageous and bold enough to help survivors. I am easily affected by seeing individuals suffering, and the situation may be emotional, making it difficult to help the survivors effectively. Hence, I would require more disaster training to help me withstand any form of a situation with courage and boldness. I am not surprised by any of my classmates’ reactions since most of them understand the requirements of disaster response and the necessary skills and characteristics required to handle such emergencies. Also, all the character traits and skills mentioned are completely necessary and required for this role.
Halpern, J., & Vermeulen, K. (2017). Disaster mental health interventions: Core principles and practices. Taylor & Francis.
King, R. V., Larkin, G. L., Klein, K. R., Fowler, R. L., Downs, D. L., & North, C. S. (2019). Ranking the attributes of effective disaster responders and leaders. Disaster medicine and public health preparedness, 13(4), 700-703.
The ideal Disaster Mental Health responder requires both a set of innate qualities and conscious choice of being able to work in the austere conditions that disasters bring. These innate character traits and skills may seem obvious for mental health professionals such as someone who can be calming, understanding, empathetic, rational, good at listening and excellent at making connections with others. On the other side of this, though, is the need someone who is able to keep these skills in check and not become too overwhelmed by the chaos and mass suffering and destruction that often accompanies disasters.
Beyond the skillsets and character traits that would make someone a good mental health professional, to be successful in the disaster setting we would also want someone who is flexible, resilient, and comfortable with the idea that they may have short, sometimes singular sessions with victims who they may never see again. DMH responders also may end up living and working in the exact same conditions as the individuals they are there to serve (Halpen & Tramontin, 2007). These conditions can be dangerous and strenuous which require a responder to have an understanding of hazard identification and basic field medical skills.
The American Psychological Association highlights the difference in disaster responders and typical mental health professionals by noting that DMH responders are not providing therapy, but instead help others build on internal resilience, offering support through various modalities depending on the need of the community and individuals (American Psychological Association, 2019). Responding to and working inside of these communities also requires cultural competency, understanding how different cultures grieve and process disaster (Everly et. al, 2008). Strategies for recovery after a tornado in Kansas may be vastly different to the needs of tsunami survivors in Indonesia.
Personally, if placed in a DMH role, I feel that I would be able to handle to aspects of being able to compartmentalize, the quick pace of being a support for resilience and field work. The element that would require more effort on my part is understanding and researching the cultural specific needs of each population. With limited travel experience outside of the US, I do not have a vast cultural background to draw upon.
American Psychological Association. (2019). What to expect as a disaster responder. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/practice/programs/dmhi/involved/disaster-responder (Links to an external site.).
Everly, G. S., Jr, Beaton, R. D., Pfefferbaum, B., & Parker, C. L. (2008). On academics: training for disaster response personnel: the development of proposed core competencies in disaster mental health. Public health reports (Washington, D.C. : 1974), 123(4), 539–542. https://doi.org/10.1177/003335490812300418
Halpern, J., & Tramontin, M. (2007). Disaster mental health: Theory and practice. Belmont, CA: Thomson Brooke/Cole.