Disaster-related physical and mental health: a role for the family physician

Am Fam Physician. 2007 Mar 15;75(6):841-6.


Natural disasters, technologic disasters, and mass violence impact millions of persons each year. The use of primary health care services typically increases for 12 or more months following major disasters. A conceptual framework for assisting disaster victims involves understanding the individual and environmental risk factors that influence post-disaster physical and mental health. Victims of disaster will typically present to family physicians with acute physical health problems such as gastroenteritis or viral syndromes. Chronic problems often require medications and ongoing primary care. Some victims may be at risk of acute or chronic mental health problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, or alcohol abuse. Risk factors for post-disaster mental health problems include previous mental health problems and high levels of exposure to disaster-related stresses (e.g., fear of death or serious injury, exposure to serious injury or death, separation from family, prolonged displacement). An action plan should involve adequate preparation for a disaster. Family physicians should educate themselves about disaster-related physical and mental health threats; cooperate with local and national organizations; and make sure clinics and offices are adequately supplied with medications and suture and casting material as appropriate. Physicians also should plan for the care and safety of their own families.

MeSH terms

  • Disaster Planning
  • Disasters*
  • Emergency Medical Services*
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / therapy
  • Mental Health Services
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Physician's Role*
  • Physicians, Family*
  • Rescue Work
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / therapy