Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Mental Health Response to Ebola Outbreak Still in Early Stages

As infectious disease specialists and health officials work to stem the Ebola outbreak in Africa, mental health personnel are patching together their own response to the disaster.

"The totality of the response has been quite slow, and the mental health response has even been slower,” said Benjamin Harris, M.D. (pictured above), in an email to Psychiatric News. Harris is an associate professor at Dogliotti College of Medicine in Monrovia, Liberia. He is also the only psychiatrist working in that country.

Health professionals are both overworked and exposed to the virus, said Mardia Stone, M.D., M.P.H., an advisor to the Division of Global Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, who returned recently from the region. Their families are also a vulnerable group, fearing that these workers will catch the disease or inadvertently bring the pathogen home.

Neighboring Sierra Leone also has just one psychiatrist, but nongovernmental organizations there have been working to give some nurses and other health workers a basic understanding of mental health.

Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea—where almost all of the Ebola cases have arisen—are collaborating to develop a psychosocial program that will focus on the children and widowed spouses of Ebola victims, said Harris.

Halting the spread of virus is the first priority of public-health personnel, but the psychological aftereffects of the epidemic will become even more apparent once the disease's spread is contained.

To read more in Psychiatric News about the mental health response to the Ebola epidemic, see the article "Response to Ebola Crisis Will Require Attention to MH Needs." Ebola factsheets from the Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences are posted at http://www.cstsonline.org/ebola/.

(Image: Massachusetts General Hospital)


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