Public Forum Discusses Mental Health, Disability and Disasters

  • 2014•12•03

    At a UNU-IAS public forum on 28 November 2014, experts from several UN agencies and other organizations discussed issues of mental wellbeing and disability in the context of disasters. The event shared key outcomes from a UN expert group meeting organized by UNU on 27–28 November 2014, including a set of recommendations for mainstreaming mental wellbeing and disability issues into the global post-2015 framework for disaster risk reduction.

    Andrew Mohanraj (Chairperson, National Council for Persons with Disabilities, Malaysia) shared personal insights from post-disaster efforts following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. He explained the importance of considering people with psychosocial disabilities during the development of disaster risk reduction strategies and how disasters could exacerbate such pre-existing conditions.

    Ana Cristina Angulo-Thorlund (UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction) noted a general lack of references to mental wellbeing within UN documents on disaster risk reduction, and explained that all opportunities should be seized to inclusively engage people in efforts to reduce their vulnerability. 

    Florante E Trinidad (National Professional Officer, WHO Office of the Representative in the Philippines) stressed that there could be no health without mental health, which was mainly dependent on daily wellbeing. He explained that emphasis should therefore be placed on daily wellbeing to reinforce the resilience of communities.

    Akiko Ito (Chief, Secretariat for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs) provided insights into intergovernmental processes aimed at supporting persons with disabilities. She emphasized that these people should not only be considered a vulnerable group, but also recognized as potential agents of change and leaders for their local communities and at the global level.

    Yoshiharu Kim (President, National Information Center for Disaster Mental Health, National Institute of Mental Health, Japan) drew attention to gaps in Japan’s disaster preparedness measures, noting that very few prefectures included mental health issues in their disaster guidelines. He expressed his hope that these issues would receive renewed focus as a result of the March 2015 World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan.

    Following a moderated panel discussion, participants engaged in interactive discussion with the speakers, covering issues such as whether people living in disaster-prone areas become more accustomed to dealing with such stresses over time; how persons with disabilities are more vulnerable to disasters; and how more effective coordination can be achieved after disasters. 

    The public forum opened with remarks by Kazuhiko Takemoto (Director, UNU-IAS), stressing the impacts of mental health conditions on society, and the need to integrate consideration of mental wellbeing into national and international frameworks for disaster risk reduction. The forum was moderated by Atsuro Tsutsumi (Research Fellow, UNU-IIGH).

    An audio recording of the public forum including the discussion session with the audience is available below.

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    UNU-IAS co-organized this event as part of the Fukushima Global Communication programme, a research initiative examining impacts of the Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident of March 11, 2011 on people and society, the challenges of the recovery process in Fukushima, and related issues of risk and information provision.