Jacobs will oversee mental health program in wake of Indian quake Dr. Jerry Jacobs, director of the Disaster Mental Health Institute at The University of South Dakota, a South Dakota Board of Regents Center for Excellence, spent World Mental Health Day, April 5, and the next four months in India. He will develop one of the largest psychological support programs ever attempted in the aftermath of a disaster.
In India on Jan. 26, an earthquake destroyed 40 percent of the buildings in the city of Bhuj and left 60 percent inhabitable. Estimates of the number of people killed range from 25,000 to 100,000 in the aftermath of the quake that devastated Gujarat, an Indian state that borders Pakistan and the Arabian Sea. Up to two million people were left homeless.
"I think it's going to be a very challenging operation but the goal as I see it is to help the local mental health professionals apply their skills in disasters," said Jacobs. "India is a pretty sophisticated country as far as psychology but they haven't prepared a lot in the disaster mental health area. At the same time I'm teaching their psychologists, they will be teaching me how our models fit within their culture," said Jacobs. "It's a give and take learning experience."
The culture in India is primarily Hindu and Islamic. India has four times the population of the United States and ranks second only to China in population.
The India disaster mental health program is a joint effort of the American Red Cross and Indian Red Cross. The first phase of the worldwide relief effort was to feed, keep alive, and shelter survivors. The second phase, which includes mental health treatment, began last week. Jacobs compares the disaster mental health problems he'll be developing in India to the mental health response to the Flight 232 crash in 1989 in Sioux City, IA, only on a larger scale.
In both cases there was no mental health plan in place, there were large numbers of casualties and survivors, and no mental health professionals trained in disaster mental health. The primary difference will be that the India earthquake is at least 200 times larger than the crash of Flight 232. Also, Jacobs will have little ability to communicate with the United States while he is in the devastated area.
"This is probably the largest to date psychological support program that has ever been attempted in the aftermath of a disaster," said Professor Randal Quevillon, chairperson of the psychology department at USD. "The fact that Dr. Jacobs will be directing the disaster intervention lends enormous credibility to the Disaster Mental Health Institute. It is a huge effort along the lines of the type of psychological support we have been recommending and planning and now we can put into practice on a very large scale."
Jacobs was selected because of the USD Clinical Psychology Program's reputation of cross-cultural training and the DMHI's partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). The USD Department of Psychology offers an undergraduate minor in and an area of concentration for psychology majors in disaster response. It is the only institute in the nation that offers a doctoral specialty track in
clinical/disaster psychology, through the USD Clinical Training Program.
The DMHI provides a broad range of training. Common topics include general introductory courses, management of large and small scale disasters, cross-cultural issues in disaster response, care for secondary victims, community interventions, rural disaster management, support for first response teams, and design of FEMA crisis intervention programs.
The mission of the DMHI is the promotion, development, and application of both practice and research in disaster mental health. For more information about DMHI contact Quevillon at (605) 677-6575.