April 18, 2015

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Conference looks at mental health issues related to climate change

NEW PALTZ – The 12th annual Institute for Disaster Mental Health at SUNY New Paltz brought home the importance of connectivity in keeping communities resilient in the face of more and more frequent climate related disasters.

For the first time its dozen years, the conference on Friday focused on the mental health effects of climate-related disasters.

In recent years Hurricane Irene, Tropical Storm Lee, Super Storm Sandy, and various blizzards have wreaked havoc across the region, wiping out roads and bridges and destroying homes, businesses, and farms.

 “Hopefully we’re done debating whether climate change is real; we know it’s real, so now let’s look at what we can do to hopefully prevent some of the long term consequences, and mitigate the health and mental health effects as well,” said Karla , deputy director for the Institute for Disaster Mental Health at SUNY New Paltz.

A lot of attention has been paid to recovery from the storms and mitigation of the effects of future storms on infrastructure through programs like New York Rising, a program established to provide additional rebuilding and revitalization assistance to communities severely damaged by Hurricanes Sandy and Irene and Tropical Storm Lee.

The less visible effects of such events are the stress it puts on the residents, said Vermeulen.

“Recovering from these major disasters does tend to be associated with, not only health problems, but high stress levels, on-going anxiety, on-going depression, in some cases it leads to substance abuse, in some cases it leads to domestic violence,” she said. “It’s just hard for people to kind of find ways to cope with these chronic stressors so they kind of act them out in harmful ways in some cases.”

The college institute brought together emergency management, health and mental health personnel who all play a role in preparing for and responding to climate-related disasters to discuss ways to build more resilient communities in light of the pending increase in climate related disasters.

This audience included representatives from Homeland Security, the New York State Office of Health and Mental Health, the Office of Emergency Management, and educators.


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