The SUNY New Paltz Institute for Disaster Mental Health (IDMH) will hold its 10th annual Disaster Mental Health conference, “Radiological Readiness: Preparing for Dirty Bombs, Nuclear Disasters, and Other Radiation Emergencies” on Friday, April 19.
The event, which begins at 9 a.m. following registration in Lecture Center 100, will include a panel discussion, and talks given by guest speaker Congressmen Chris Gibson and keynote lecturer Dr. Steven M. Becker, a community and environmental health professor at Albany University.
IDMH Coordinator Linda Certo said workshops on topics such as the Fukushima meltdown, risk management, understanding post-blast human behavior and radiological response will be available for guests to attend in the afternoon.
“We are hoping never to use these skills we are training, but we will be better prepared in assisting people and working together,” Certo said.
Although everyone is invited to the conference, Certo said that it is important for disaster mental health minors and health and clinical professionals, as well as first and Red Cross responders to learn from the conference and receive the proper training.
“[We need to] increase knowledge for clinicians, emergency responders and mental health clinicians so people will know what to do, expect and anticipate about people’s emotional physical and mental [response],” she said.
The topic of disaster mental health, although a new field of study, is timely, Certo said. With the natural disasters, nuclear meltdowns and terrorist threats the world faces today, it is crucial that citizens realize potential dangers and are prepared, while clinicians and emergency responders are trained to mitigate the trauma and damage on the scene, acting as mental health providers, she said.
“The more we learn how to prepare ourselves, the more exposed we are,” Certo said. “It lessens the trauma.”
Assistant Professor of psychology and conference workshop co-presenter and organizer Karla Vermeulen said this is a subject many people don’t have an understanding of and are fearful of due to their lack of clarity. This means, she said, in the case of a disaster, there would be serious mental health reactions such as anxiety and dread, in addition to the medical and logistical needs.
“While we all like to think something as potentially devastating as a dirty bomb or nuclear meltdown will never happen in our area, the consequences could be so severe and widespread that it’s essential everyone in the response community works together so there are plans in place should something happen,” Vermeulen said.
In regards to the New Paltz community, Vermeulen said it’s critical that the region’s responders are given disaster mental health training because of the proximity to Indian Point nuclear plant and New York City, where the area could receive a mass of evacuees in the event of a terrorist attack or inclement weather event. It is important to know how to cope with people’s stress reactions and losses, she said.
“It’s an unfortunate fact that issues like climate change and access to guns mean that the frequency and intensity of disasters is increasing,” Vermeulen said. “As a result, the need for trained disaster mental health helpers is growing, which is why events like the IDMH conference are so essential.”