Disaster Mental Health Institute assists tsunami victims

Disaster Mental Health Institute assists tsunami victims Dr. Jerry Jacobs, director of the Disaster Mental Health Institute at The University of South Dakota realizes the importance of reaching out to those in need.

He has assisted with the mental health needs of people from all over the world in places like Bulgaria, Malta, Gambia and Turkey. This time around he is working in conjunction with the American Psychological Association to formulate a plan to assist in the mental health needs of the survivors of the deadly tsunami that devastated the lives of hundreds of thousands of people late last year.�

The broad effort is aimed at alleviating some of the trauma associated with survivors' loss of loved ones, property, and other emotional and psychological effects of the tsunami. "Basically, we're dealing with general psychological support issues," said Jacobs.

Jacobs will be responsible for reviewing the suggestions of APA members and APA elected leaders in order to develop a set of short-term, intermediate and long-term recommendations concerning actions the APA might take to address the mental health needs of the tsunami survivors.

"The APA is certainly one of, if not the largest professional mental health organization in the world. We're trying to use the resources they bring to bear in a way that truly takes care of the needs of the people," Jacobs said.

Reaching out to such a wide variety of people in a vast collection of affected areas is a difficult task, but those working with Dr. Jacobs are confident in his ability to achieve positive results. APA President Ronald F. Levant, Ed.D. notes, "It is a challenge to address the mental health needs of such a large population.� The affected area involves 12 countries, 20 different languages and a wide range of cultures, but Dr. Jacobs' leadership and expertise will help us meet those challenges."

In addition to his efforts with the APA, Dr. Jacobs has been involved with other organizations in the region that now hope to ease some of the suffering caused by the tsunami. In November, only weeks before the disaster, he worked with the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center to train a group of twenty-two disaster managers from fifteen countries, including all of those countries subsequently affected by the tsunami. His work with this group will resume in May of this year.

The work that the Disaster Mental Health Institute engages in not only benefits the recipients of the services, but also those of us closer to home. The DMHI is recognized worldwide for its efforts, but more importantly, students at USD profit from centers of excellence such as this.

"Programs like the Disaster Mental Health Institute provide a faculty that know about the real world and have practical experience in their field. The faculty does not live in an ivory tower, and students are provided with a cutting edge education. We are the cutting edge," Jacobs said.

The Disaster Mental Health Institute is a Center of Excellence at The University of South Dakota. It was created to promote, develop and apply both practice and research in disaster mental health. Through USD's department of psychology, the DMHI offers an undergraduate minor in disaster response for students in majors other than psychology and a specialization in disaster response for psychology majors. These programs are intended to help students learn how to serve their communities in times of disaster.

For people not directly involved in the relief effort but who still wish to lend a hand, Jacobs suggests several ways to get involved.

"Money is the most important way right now, because everything that's being done now costs lots of money. It's much more beneficial for the organizations to have the money to purchase things there and to help their economies survive this," Jacobs said.�

Jacobs added that it is more costly for organizations to ship things into the region than it is to simply send money so that groups in the area can buy the supplies they need. Another way Jacobs suggests that citizens can help is to receive disaster management training in preparation for future tragedies.

"The organizations that respond to these disasters and bring in the food, tents and all of those things use college-aged humanitarian aid workers. Students can learn now the disaster response skills that may be useful in helping them to do that. Be prepared to help in person for the next one, but in the mean time send money."

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