A tornado tears through a mobile home park, torrential rains flood a neighborhood, a terrorist attack leaves bodies on the street.
Sometimes it seems like the casualties are still being counted when the next tragedy strikes. But beyond the grim tallies, many of the lives left behind are upended, sometimes with little notice. Left untreated for too long, PTSD can take root among survivors and witnesses, and that can lead to depression, addiction, and suicide.
And that’s exactly what Sandro Galea has an eye on.
With natural disasters as well as terrorist attacks on the rise, it’s critical, says the dean of the School of Public Health, that social and psychological supports be immediately available to residents in affected areas.
Several of the studies Galea coauthored this year delved into psychological resiliency of towns and cities in the wake of natural catastrophes such as hurricanes. He noted the high value of social cohesion within affected communities and urged mental health services be established in at-risk areas. In another study, Galea focused on tragedies caused by terrorism. He and his colleagues studied social media posts in relation to their proximity to the Paris terrorist attacks. Since emotional responses are typically predictive of long-term mental health needs, the authors note, if analyzed in real time, psychological help could be sent to areas of turmoil much like an ambulance.
“In the same way that first responders are guided toward those most in need when disaster strikes, longer-term mental health consequences could also be mitigated through early detection,” Galea says.