Over 800 trained to deal with mental health issues after disasters

More than 800 people in the region have been trained to help others cope with the psychological aftermath of a disaster, in a three-year project spearheaded by Singapore.

Known as the Disaster Mental Health Programme for Communities in Asia, the scheme involved people from Thailand, Indonesia and China.

Those who took part, including government officials and grassroots volunteers, were equipped to deal with mental health issues that arise after large-scale disasters.

Philanthropic organisation Temasek Foundation - an offshoot of investment company Temasek Holdings - jointly organised the $2.38 million programme with the Institute of Mental Health (IMH).

"There are many agencies and organisations already geared up for (immediate) response," said Temasek Foundation chief executive Benedict Cheong on Wednesday.

"We decided to find an area to which we could contribute, support and create awareness."

Child psychiatrists and other mental health professionals from IMH trained the participants, who in turn can train others back home.

Teachers, for example, will be taught to identify students who might be suffering from depression or anxiety after a traumatic incident.

Dr Lee Cheng, vice-chairman of the IMH medical board (clinical) and a board member of the programme, said: "Some conditions may emerge many months down the road (after disasters).

"If the community is not aware of psychiatric conditions, they may think that they can cope with these things themselves."

Rounding off the project is a three-day forum, which will take place in Bangkok from next Monday to Wednesday.

One of the participants at the Bangkok conference will be Dr Chulalak Trisuwanwat, a clinical psychiatrist who heads a mental health crisis centre in Thailand.

"The project is very beneficial to our hospital because it provides knowledge about how to manage mental health crises during and after disasters," she said.

"It strengthens the power of the community to get through the crisis together."

Linette Lai

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 25, 2015, with the headline 'Over 800 trained to deal with mental health issues after disasters'. Print Edition | Subscribe