Disaster includes natural hazards such as earthquakes, floods, drought and severe storms as well as public health emergencies such as outbreaks, epidemics and pandemics. Disasters can cause widespread human, material, economic or environmental losses. This impact might be acute in the short term, but can also undermine the long-term rights, mental and/or physical health, and psychosocial well-being of the affected population.

Public health emergencies: COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic

Public health emergencies of international concern is a formal declaration by the WHO and is defined as “an extraordinary event which is determined to constitute a public health risk to other states through the international spread of disease and to potentially require a coordinated international response”. This definition implies a situation that is “serious, unusual or unexpected, carries implications for public health beyond the affected state’s national border and may require immediate international action” (IHR 2005, WHO). A pandemic is according to WHO “a worldwide spread of a new disease” whereas an epidemic is “the occurrence in a community or region of cases of an illness, specific health-related behavior, or other health-related events clearly in excess of normal expectancy”. A disease outbreak is “the occurrence of disease cases in excess of normal expectancy. The number of cases varies according to the disease-causing agent, and the size and type of previous and existing exposure to the agent” (WHO).

Public health emergencies of international concern, pandemics, epidemics and disease outbreaks – hereafter referred to as public health emergencies – can have serious consequences for people’s mental and/or physical health and psychosocial well-being and pose a threat to individuals’ and communities’ human rights. It is therefore extremely important that responses to public health emergencies include special measures aimed at protecting and promoting human rights and mental health.

The COVID-19 pandemic:

In March 2020 the World Health Organization (WHO) made the assessment that the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak can be characterized as a pandemic.

It is pivotal that everyone has access to accurate information about the outbreak from reliable sources. Also, people should receive information about how to cope with the crisis and protect one’s own and one’s loved ones mental health. Further, it is pivotal to be reminded of everyone’s fundamental human rights, including the right to health and healthcare and its highly important implications for global and national responses to the coronavirus, as well as the total prohibition of torture and other forms of ill-treatment.

During this crisis, it is of particular importance that we think about and have solidarity with people who were already in a vulnerable and unstable situation prior to the coronavirus pandemic. Refugees and asylum seekers, so-called illegal immigrants and stateless people, people living in detention, people with disabilities, and people with physical and/or mental illness, people living in poverty and extreme poverty, and other particularly vulnerable groups, are in urgent need of appropriate healthcare and adequate preventive measures. Women and children, older adults, human rights defenders, LGBT+, and other groups may also be at increased risk of having their rights violated and of not receiving appropriate health care and support. The current situation is exigent for the most vulnerable among us.

Below, you can find reliable and updated information on the global development of the COVID-19 pandemic at WHO’s resource database EPI-WIN. You can also find information on the right to health, advice on legal safeguards in the context of compulsory quarantine, as well as on how to take care of yourself, your loved ones – including your children, and your community during the coronavirus pandemic.

EPI-WIN: Updated and reliable information on the COVID-19 pandemic
World Health Organization
EPI-WIN seeks to give people access to timely accurate information from trusted sources. This information will be tailored to different audiences and will answer pertinent questions as the event unfolds. Visit this WHO webpage here.

The Right to Health 
World Health Organization, Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
First of all, we need to be reminded of the fundamental human right to health, meaning that every human being has the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. As stated by WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, “the right to health means that everyone should have access to the health services they need, when and where they need them, without suffering financial hardship. No one should get sick and die just because they are poor, or because they cannot access the health services they need”.
During the coronavirus outbreak, it is especially important that we are reminded of this fundamental right. Key aspects of the right to health that are particularly important during the coronavirus outbreak include:

  • The right to a system of health protection providing equality of opportunity for everyone to enjoy the highest attainable level of health
  • The right to prevention, treatment and control of diseases
  • Access to essential medicines
  • The provision of health-related education and information
  • Health services, goods and facilities must be provided to all without any discrimination. Non-discrimination is a key principle in human rights and is crucial to the enjoyment of the right to the highest attainable standard of health
  • All services, goods and facilities must be available, accessible, acceptable and of good quality

As Dr. Ghebreyesus reminds us, one of the central principles of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is that no one is left behind. Responses to the coronavirus should under no circumstance discriminate between people. A rights-based approach to health requires that health policy and programs in general, and those directly linked to the coronavirus outbreak, must prioritize the needs of those furthest behind first. As stated by the WHO Director-General, “When people are marginalized or face stigma or discrimination, their physical and mental health suffers. (…) We must all work together to combat inequalities and discriminatory practices so that everyone can enjoy the benefits of good health, no matter their age, sex, race, religion, health status, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or migration status.”

UN torture prevention body advice on compulsory quarantine for Coronavirus
The UN Subcommittee for the Prevention of Torture (SPT), Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
During its meeting in Geneva, the SPT adopted guidelines, requested by the National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, on compulsory quarantine for COVID-19. This advice states that whilst quarantines are for the public benefit, they must not result in the ill-treatment of those detained, that all fundamental safeguards are respected when they are imposed and that national preventive mechanisms have a role to play in their monitoring. The statement by the OHCHR can be accessed here.
In the SPT guidelines, which can be accessed here, it is further stated the following: “In addition, sufficient and appropriate measures should be put in place in order to prevent violations of the prohibition of ill-treatment. Such violations can include (or flow from) discriminatory practices and actions which have the effect of stigmatising or marginalising particular groups of persons. This may include those individuals and groups who are considered to be at risk of, or being potential carriers of, viruses.”

Mental Health and Psychosocial Considerations During COVID-19 Outbreak
World Health Organization, 2020
WHO and public health authorities around the world are acting to contain the COVID-19 outbreak. However, this time of crisis is generating stress in the population. These mental health considerations were developed by the WHO’s Department of Mental Health and Substance Use as messages targeting different groups to support for mental and psychosocial well-being during COVID-19 outbreak. Follow the link below for detailed advice for:

  • the general population
  • healthcare workers
  • team leaders or managers in health facility
  • care providers for children
  • older adults, care providers and people with underlying health conditions
  • people in isolation

You can access the full list of recommendations here.

Addressing mental health and psychosocial aspects of COVID-19 Outbreak
Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC), 2020
This briefing note (Version 1.5) summarizes key mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) considerations in relation to the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
The briefing note includes information on the following topics:

  • Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) and the intervention pyramid
  • Mental health and psychosocial responses to COVID-19
  • Overarching principles for an MHPSS response to COVID-19
  • Globally recommended activities
  • INTERVENTION 1: Helping older adults cope with stress during the COVID-19 outbreak
  • INTERVENTION 2: Supporting the needs of people with disabilities during a COVID-19 outbreak
  • INTERVENTION 3: Messages & activities for helping children deal with stress during the COVID-19 outbreak
  • INTERVENTION 4: MHPSS activities for adults in isolation/quarantine
  • INTERVENTION 5: Supporting people working in the COVID-19 response
  • INTERVENTION 6: Community MHPSS messages during the COVID-19 outbreak

You can access the full briefing note here.

Speaking of Psychology: Coronavirus Anxiety – Bonus Episode
American Psychological Association, 2020 
Fear about the coronavirus has gripped the world. While nearly all cases have been in China, that has not stopped people in other countries from worrying. This new illness certainly is frightening and needs attention, but it’s important to note that far more people die from an illness that’s all too familiar — the seasonal flu. Why are we so afraid of this novel coronavirus when we are much more likely to catch the flu? Our guest, Baruch Fischhoff, PhD, is a professor at Carnegie Mellon University and an expert on public perception of risk and human judgment and decision-making. He explains why we worry about new risks more than familiar ones, how to calm our anxiety and what are the psychological effects of being quarantined. Listen to the episode here.

Five Ways to View Coverage of the Coronavirus
American Psychological Association, 2020
New reports about COVID-19 are becoming more widespread and are making some people anxious. Here are some tips to help you manage your anxiety, put news reports in perspective and maintain a positive outlook. You can access the list of recommendations here.

Coping with stress during the 2019-nCOV outbreak
World Health Organization
Information sheet on how to cope with stress during the Coronavirus outbreak from WHO. It can be accessed here. We recommend printing the sheet if you are able to and keep it somewhere where you see it regularly and are reminded of these concrete steps that you can take to limit stress.

Myth busters
World Health Organization
Not everything you hear about coronavirus (COVID-19) is true, seek advice and information from trusted sources as myths and rumors can be damaging to public health. Here are the answers to some of the common ‘myths’ or questions about coronavirus (COVID-19). You can find the information on myths here.

Social Stigma associated with COVID-19
World Health Organization
Social stigma in the context of health is the negative association between a person or group of people who share certain characteristics and a specific disease. In an outbreak, this may mean people are labelled, stereotyped, discriminated against, treated separately, and/or experience loss of status because of a perceived link with a disease. The current COVID-19 outbreak has provoked social stigma and discriminatory behaviours against people of certain ethnic backgrounds as well as anyone perceived to have been in contact with the virus. Access the information page here.

Helping children cope with stress during the COVID-19 outbreak
World Health Organization
Information sheet on how to help children cope with stress during the Coronavirus outbreak from WHO. It can be accessed here. We recommend printing the sheet if you are able to and keep it somewhere where you see it regularly and are reminded of these concrete steps that you can take to support your children.

Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) resource page
UNICEF is working with global health experts around the clock to provide accurate information. Information you can trust is grounded in the latest scientific evidence. We’ll continue to provide the latest updatesexplainers for parents and teachers, and resources for media as new information becomes available, so check back to stay informed of the best ways to protect yourself and your family.

What can we say to children about Coronavirus (COVID-19)?
Clinic for crisis psychology, Norway
The guide covers the following topics:

  • Facts about the corona virus
  • What can we say to the children
  • For parents with young children
  • General advice for conversations with children
  • Family life in a ‘new’ world

You can access the full online guide here.

Guidelines on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergency Settings
IASC 2007
These quite useful guidelines (191 p.) reflect an emerging consensus on good practice among practitioners. The core idea behind them is that, in the early phase of an emergency, social supports are essential to protect and support mental health and psychosocial well-being. The guidelines provide in addition with selected psychological and psychiatric topics interventions for specific problems.

Disaster Mental Health Handbook 
American Red Cross 2012
These guidelines provide with a good overview about to define disaster, and possible symptoms in the survivors, as well as how to handle the survivors needs. Some advices concerning assessment during the different phases of disaster.

Disaster Psychosocial Response – Handbook for community counselor trainers
Academy for Disaster Management Education, Planning, Training ADEPT 2005
This training manual (95 p.) aims to provide an overview of substantive concepts to assist (target group) psycho-social program administrators, planners, trainers, clinicians in developing the training component of community counseling projects, including how disasters affect children, adults and older adults, the importance of tailoring the program to fit the community, and descriptions of effective counseling interventions. It gives an overview over symptoms, psychological effects on people (children, adults, elderly).

Coping With Disasters – a Guidebook to Psychosocial Intervention
John H. Ehrenreich 2001
This manual (104 p.) outlines a variety of psychosocial interventions aimed at helping people cope with the emotional effects of disasters. It is intended for use by mental health workers (psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and other counselors), by primary medical care workers (doctors, nurses, and other community health providers), by disaster relief workers, by teachers, religious leaders, and community leaders, and by governmental and organizational officials concerned with responses to disasters. It is intended as a field guide or as the basis for brief or extended training programs in how to respond to the psychosocial effects of disasters.

The Humanitarian Emergency Settings Perceived Needs Scale (HESPER)
WHO 2011
The HESPER Scale was developed to fill the gap between the population-based “objective” indicators (for example malnutrition or mortality indicators), and the qualitative data based on convenience samples (for example through focus groups or key informant interviews).. It aims to provide a method for assessing perceived needs in representative samples of populations affected by large-scale humanitarian emergencies in a valid and reliable manner. This manual includes the HESPER Scale, as well as a detailed explanation of how to use the HESPER Scale, how to train interviewers, and how to organise, analyze and report on a HESPER survey.

Mental health and social health after acute emergencies
Ommeren, Saxcena & Saraceno, Round Table WHO Bulletin 2005
This represents a short overview and consensus about best to cope with disasters, both practical topics and mentioning the necessary social support.

Natural disasters: Overview
American psychological association 2010
This website under the American Psychological Association provides a good overview on the effects of disasters on peoples psyche. It gathers lots of relevant links under the topics coping with disaster, how psychologists help, and some updated news about disaster-effects.

Mind/body health: The effects of traumatic stress
American psychological association 2010
This article is a “fact-sheet” presenting to the target group of survivors an overview about symptoms, effects otherwise, and coping strategies.

Tips for recovering from disasters and other traumatic events
American psychological association 2010
Factsheet that presents in a short version some topics concerning disaster: how do people respond, how should I help myself and my family, when should I seek professional help. Target group: survivors.

Psychosocial aspects of the Tsunami 
IFRC Reference Centre for Psychosocial Support 2005
Factsheet (1 p.)”what you can do right now to support wellbeing” – very practically how-to-do after a disaster had occurred, f.e. how to talk to survivors. Not only after Tsunamis.

Psychosocial interventions – A handbook
IFRC 2009
This handbook (198 p.) presents very solid information and how-to-do about coping with disasters and the psychological effects. Focus on psychosocial support and how to organize: assessments, planning, implementation, training, monitoring. Target group: psychosocial practitioners. 

Psychological First Aid
National Child Traumatic Stress Network, Veteran Affairs National Center for PTSD 2006
Contains intervention strategies which are intended for use with children, adolescents, parents/caretakers, families, and adults exposed to disaster or terrorism, and in the immediate aftermath. It can also be provided to first responders and other disaster relief workers. Psychological First Aid is designed to reduce the initial distress caused by traumatic events and to foster short- and long-term adaptive functioning and coping. It comes along with lots of very useful and practical examples (f.e. how to talk to survivors). Target group: mental health and other disaster response workers.

Public health risk assessment and interventions, Earthquake: Haiti
WHO 2010
This “public health risk assessment” was meant to provide health professionals in United Nations Agencies, nongovernmental organizations, donor agencies and local authorities which were and are working with populations affected by the earthquake in Haiti, with up-to-date technical guidance on the major public health threats faced by the earthquake-affected population. –

Guidelines on Gender-based Violence interventions in humanitarian settings
IASC 2009
We know that in times of crises and disaster there is an increased level of violence, in particular in Gender-based Violence (GBV) . GBV is a serious problem also in the context of complex emergencies and natural disasters where normal structures of society are seriously affected and alternative safeguards not yet in place. Women and children are often targets of abuse, and are the most vulnerable to exploitation and violence simply because of their gender, age, and status in society. This website provides with an overview and factsheets on that topic.

Managing stress in humanitarian workers – Guidelines for Good Practice
Antares Foundation 2006.
This is a collection of some principles to be followed in organizing help after disaster, with focus on support for the mental health workers. Disasters aftermath and coping with that and survivors needs can be for the helpers a source for compassion fatigue, vicarious traumatisation or secondary traumatic stress (STS). Early recognition and awareness is crucial to be resilient to these symptoms. Awareness of this is important for workers in areas of conflict and disaster, and in extreme environments such as these, people may be more vulnerable to secondary traumatization. Target group: humanitarian organizations and their staff. 

Trauma Center Resources – Handouts, Interviews, Resources for First Responders
Trauma Center at Justice Resource Institute 2007
On this website of the Trauma Center we find a collection of very useful links to handouts and articles about the topic of disaster and its consequences, as well as links to resources for first responders (target group) .

NCTSN 2010
This is the main page of NCTSN concerning Natural Disasters. It provides with the most important links under this topic – earthquakes, epidemics, fires, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, and tsunamis. Under each of these pages you will find lots of very useful links and articles as well, with essential description of situations, symptoms, and how-to-cope procedures.

Field Manual for Mental Health and Human Service Workers in Major Disasters
This Field Manual is intended for mental health workers and other human service providers who assist survivors following a disaster. This pocket reference provides the basics of disaster mental health, with numerous specific and practical suggestions for humanitarian workers (target group). Essential information about disaster survivors’ reactions and needs is included. “Helping” skills are described with guidance for when to refer for professional assistance. Strategies for worker stress prevention and management are presented in the last section.

It makes sense to consider the topic ”children and disaster” as an own chapter. When children are exposed to circumstances that are beyond the usual scope of human experience (eg. a terrorist attack, natural disaster, or acts of violence), they may have difficulty understanding and coping with the events and may develop a range of symptoms, including trauma symptoms, depression, anxiety, or, if deaths are involved, bereavement. Children and their capability to cope with traumas are not yet stabilized as adults are. Psychosocial manifestations in children after disaster are influenced greatly by the nature of disaster itself, the level of exposure to the disaster, the extent to which the children and those around them are personally affected by the disaster, and the individual characteristics of children, including their age and stage of development. In addition, children are uniquely affected by disasters because they are afflicted not only by the trauma of the event but also by their parents’ fear and distress.

We have collected some useful articles, guidelines, websites concerning this topic. Lots of the links although targeting children can nevertheless be considered valid and useful also for adults.

Children and Disaster; Teaching Recovery Techniques
Patrick Smith, Atle Dyregrov, William Yule – Children and War Foundation, 2002

This manual and accompanying workbook (90 p.)is a very useful how-to-do guide: helping childcare professionals to set up group lessons for children 8 years and older, who have survived disaster. These lessons should help teaching children in a step by step practical way to develop some skills and techniques which are helpful in coping with the psychological effects of disastrous events. They should work as prevention for later treatment: children who have learned and practiced the techniques contained here will be less likely to need specialist treatment services in the future. These lessons provide assistance for large numbers of children as quickly as possible. Please contact Atle Dyregrov at atle@krisepsyk.no for a copy.

Inter-agency Guiding Principles on Unaccompanied and Separated Children
International Committee of the Red Cross and other organisations  2004
In almost all armed conflicts, mass population displacements, natural disasters and other crises, a number of children become separated from their families or from other adults responsible for them. These children form one of the most vulnerable groups in these situations, often deprived of care and protection. Most can be reunited with parents, siblings, members of the extended family or other adults whom they know and who are willing to provide for their care. Action on behalf of unaccompanied and separated children should be guided by principles enshrined in international standards. The validity of these principles has been confirmed by experience and lessons learnt from conflicts and natural disasters in recent years. The objective of the present publication (72 p.) is to outline the guiding principles which form the basis for action in this regard.

Pediatric Terrorism and Disaster Preparedness – Mental Health Issues
Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, AHRQ 2003
Quite useful, long and solid article, with focus on an overview on trauma-related disorders – including assessment and treatment – and specially “death notification and pediatric bereavement”. The last topic is described extensive.

Psychosocial Implications of Disaster or Terrorism on Children: A Guide for the Pediatrician
American Academy of Pediatrician, 2005
This article (11 p.) provides with a great overview on the effects of trauma on children. There are lots of factors crucial for development of symptoms, which are discussed. We find description of symptoms and diagnosis, as well as advice for pediatricians (target group clinicians).

Pediatric medical traumatic stress toolkit for health care providers
NCTSN 2010
This website represents a collection of materials (links to), designed for hospital-based health care providers (physicians, nurses, and other health care professionals.) The material may also be of use to mental health professionals who work in health care settings. It provides an introduction to traumatic stress, practical tips and tools, handouts that can be distributed. –

Healing after Trauma Skills – a Manual for Professionals, Teachers, and Families working with Children after Trauma/Disaster
 Gurwich & Messenbaugh, Univ. of Oklahoma, 2005
Very good manual (104 p.) with a description of symptoms which may occur in children after disaster, identifying the severity of disease, and suggestions how to cope/treatment. Detailed instructions, how-to-do step-by-step, can be used as a workshop-manual. Target group: professionals/clinicians (teachers, families).

Childhood Traumatic Grief Educational Materials
 National Child Traumatic Stress Network NCTSN 2004
This manual (14 p.) includes both brief information sheets as well as in-depth descriptions and guidelines on recognizing and enquiring about traumatic grief in young patients. It provides essential material for understanding uncomplicated bereavement following a death, further background on childhood traumatic grief, and other reactions to trauma.

Your Child Is At Risk for Mental Health Issues After a Disaster
National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities 2018
After a disaster, children may experience anxiety, fear, sadness, sleep disruption, distressing dreams, irritability, difficulty concentrating, and anger outbursts. Learn the signs of children’s mental stress to help them cope after a disaster.

Emergency Preparedness and Response
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention CDC (last review 2018)
This is a very central site where you can find an overview over preparedness for all hazards (with the topics preparation and planning, surveillance, training and education, coping with a disaster, clinicians, healthcare facilities, labs, research) as well as how to deal with specific hazards. The last point links to hazards as bioterrorism, mass casualties, chemical emergencies, natural disasters and severe weather, radiation emergencies, recent outbreaks and incidents. All links again have lots of sub-topics, with quite useful fact-sheets, information, how-to-do for professionals as well as for survivors (target group).

The Sphere Project
Sphere 2018
The Sphere Project provides “humanitarian charter and minimum standards in disaster response”. This is a great international collaboration where hundreds of national and international NGO`s, UN agencies, academic institutions as well as individuals came together some years ago with the ambition to define international standards when coping with disaster, the collaboration resulting in a handbook for humanitarian responders.

Disaster Mental Health – Trauma Information Pages
David Baldwin, 2010
David Baldwin`s trauma-pages, and here especially the one concerning mental health under the effect of disaster, provides with a very extensive collection of links. These links again cover most topics imaginable, from general information, assessment planning, mental health and guidelines, as well as topics concerning special hazards and the needs here.

Relief Web
This site is administered by the UN Office for coordination of human affairs OCHA, and defines itself as an “independent vehicle of information, designed specifically to assist the international humanitarian community in delivering of emergency assistance”. It provides up-to-date information about the latest disasters, as well as hand-outs and guidelines. Lots of very useful links to relevant topics. Target group relief workers. 

The HumanitarianResponse.info platform is provided to the humanitarian community by OCHA as a mean to help responders coordinate their work on the ground. This site is administered by the UN Office for coordination of human affairs OCHA, and defines itself as an “independent vehicle of information, designed specifically to assist the international humanitarian community in delivering of emergency assistance”. It provides up-to-date information about the latest disasters, as well as hand-outs and guidelines. Lots of very useful links to relevant topics. Target group relief workers.

Psychosocial support in emergencies
The Psychosocial Centre of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies focuses on contemporary psychosocial support programmes and activities, including specific projects, assessments and evaluations. New initiatives and developments in research as well as key meetings and trainings in the field of psychosocial support are also highlighted.

Coping with Disasters: Health Information Guide
A traumatic event is a shocking, scary, or dangerous experience that affects someone emotionally. These situations may be natural, like a tornado or earthquake. They can also be caused by other people, like a car accident, crime, or terror attack.


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Based on the tags: community crisis disaster internally displaced persons reconstruction

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