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Integrating mental health and disaster preparedness in intervention: a randomized controlled trial with earthquake and flood-affected communities in Haiti

  • Leah Emily James (a1), Courtney Welton-Mitchell (a2), John Roger Noel (a3) and Alexander Scott James (a4)

Abstract

Background

Given the frequency of natural hazards in Haiti, disaster risk reduction is crucial. However, evidence suggests that many people exposed to prior disasters do not engage in disaster preparedness, even when they receive training and have adequate resources. This may be partially explained by a link between mental health symptoms and preparedness; however, these components are typically not integrated in intervention.

Methods

The current study assesses effectiveness of an integrated mental health and disaster preparedness intervention. This group-based model was tested in three earthquake-exposed and flood-prone communities (N = 480), across three time points, using a randomized controlled trial design. The 3-day community-based intervention was culturally-adapted, facilitated by trained Haitian lay mental health workers, and focused on enhancing disaster preparedness, reducing mental health symptoms, and fostering community cohesion.

Results

Consistent with hypotheses, the intervention increased disaster preparedness, reduced symptoms associated with depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and functional impairment, and increased peer-based help-giving and help-seeking. Mediation models indicated support for the underlying theoretical model, such that the effect of the intervention on preparedness was mediated by mental health, and that effects on mental health were likewise mediated by preparedness.

Conclusions

The community-based mental health-integrated disaster preparedness intervention is effective in improving mental health and preparedness among community members in Haiti vulnerable to natural hazards. This brief intervention has the potential to be scaled up for use with other communities vulnerable to earthquakes, seasonal flooding, and other natural hazards.

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Copyright

This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Corresponding author

Author for correspondence: Leah Emily James, E-mail: leah.james@colorado.edu

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