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Coping with a Disaster or Traumatic Event

Resources for State and Local Governments

State and local health departments should include mental health management in each phase of a disaster (pre-event, response, recovery, and evaluation).

  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA’s) Disaster Distress Hotline: 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746.
  • People with deafness or hearing loss can use their preferred relay service to call 1-800-985-5990.

Pre-Event Phase


  • Understand demographic and social characteristics. Identify the language needs and reading levels in your area.
  • Build relationships with public health officials, community stakeholders, private and public medical providers, and school officials.
  • Identify staff support policy and resources.
  • Find behavioral health treatment facilities in your state.

Assess these community characteristics:

  • Culture, religion, ethnicity
  • Shared values
  • Social resources
  • Access to healthcare
  • Average level of education
  • At-risk populations
  • Languages
  • Non-governmental and community-based organizations


  • Establish the role of partners, like community-based organizations, in mental health services during an emergency.
  • Identify and train mental health professionals and response staff to provide counseling, triage, outreach, and education during a crisis or emergency.
  • Plan for interpreter services.
  • Train provider groups including public health nurses, school health professionals, and community support workers, in psychosocial consequences of terrorism and disasters.
  • Develop a risk communication plan and templates.
  • Develop a triage system to connect victims with emergency mental health services when needed.

Response Phase

  • First meet basic safety and security needs of target populations.
  • Provide Psychological First Aid at response sites.
  • Use risk communication principles in all messaging.
  • Continue to monitor the mental health needs of victims and responders.
  • Provide access to counselors in all appropriate languages.
  • Distribute educational information appropriate to the event.
  • Use triage system to connect victims in acute distress with professional services.
  • Provide coping resources for responders and their families.
Hands at a meeting table holding notes.

Establish relationships with mental health partners ahead of time. Determine how they will serve mental health in an emergency.

Recovery Phase

  • Continue to monitor mental health needs in the affected population.
  • Train social and community leaders on how to help their groups cope.
  • Give the community opportunities to come together.
  • Promote availability of and ongoing need for coping and resources.
  • Anticipate and plan to deal with trauma reminders (such as anniversaries of the event date, or the broadcast of similar incidents on the news).

Evaluation Phase

  • Monitor for long-term mental stress in the community and for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
  • Identify and address gaps in your mental health preparedness plan.

Additional Resources:

Community members gather around a memorial at a disaster site.

Give the community opportunities to come together.