What Is Disaster Psychiatry?

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  • Written By: N. Madison
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 22 May 2019
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Disaster psychiatry involves the study, evaluation, and treatment of disorders of the mind that stem from disasters. During and after a disaster, many people experience extreme degrees of stress that can have lasting effects. Some note an increase in tension after a disaster and exhibit changes in behavior as a result, such as an increase in smoking or a pattern of reacting in irritation to those around him. Others may develop psychiatric conditions as a result of a disaster. For example, some become depressed, have extreme difficulty dealing with grief, or even develop post-traumatic stress disorder.

Stress is a natural consequence of living through a disaster. The stress a person feels and its effects can differ from person to person, however. Disaster psychiatry deals with the psychological effects of disasters, the stresses they cause, and the development of psychological conditions that result from them. Psychiatrists in this field may not only study and research this type of psychiatry, but also work to evaluate and treat patients who suffer psychological effects from a disaster.


Professionals in the field of disaster psychiatry often deal with patients who develop long-lasting conditions because of a disaster. For example, a person who has lost loved ones in a disaster may have serious difficulty dealing with his grief in a healthy manner. Regardless of whether or not a person has lost a loved one, he may become depressed, have trouble sleeping, or even develop an anxiety disorder. Some people develop a condition called post traumatic stress disorder, which is marked by flashbacks, loneliness, anxiety, and problems controlling anger. Additionally, people who have lived through a catastrophe may develop substance abuse tendencies.

It is important to note that some people do not develop long-term disorders as a result of a catastrophe, but they may exhibit significant psychiatric and behavioral responses. For example, some people smoke more afterward or even develop a smoking habit. Others may work themselves to the point of exhaustion and feel unable to stop and rest. Many people also become more irritable or less capable of coping with changes or disruptions.

Those who work in the field of disaster psychiatry don't always limit themselves to dealing with the effects of a disaster after it has occurred; some study this type of psychiatry in order to come up with better methods of preparing for disasters and evaluating and treating the aftereffects. Others work with patients in the immediate period after a disaster or help patients for an extended period after an occurrence.



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