The World Health Organisation (WHO) has released new guidance for mental health and psychosocial support in radiological and nuclear emergencies.
The global health body said in a statement that the guidance, titled, Framework for mental health and psychosocial support in radiological and nuclear emergencies, was developed to fill the gap in practical guidance for addressing the mental health and psychosocial aspects of radiation emergencies.
WHO said lessons learnt from past radiological and nuclear accidents had shown that the mental health and psychosocial consequences can outweigh the direct physical health impacts of radiation exposure.
‘The Framework for mental health and psychosocial support in radiological and nuclear emergencies, released today [26 November], brings together, for the first time, existing knowledge from the fields of mental health and protection from radiation in an integrated guide for preparedness for and response to nuclear and radiological emergencies’, WHO said in a statement.
‘The framework is intended for officials and specialists involved in radiation emergency planning and risk management as well as mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) experts working in health emergencies’.
With regard to key MHPSS elements of response planning, WHO, according to the framework, noted that MHPSS planning should be informed by a risk, vulnerability and needs assessment.
‘While there may be many aspects of mapping potential risks and hazards, MHPSS risk mapping aspects include identification of the potential adverse impacts of radiation protection actions, of appropriate counter measures, of system weaknesses, of priority needs and of capability or resource gaps’, the framework read.
It also noted that planning for radiation emergencies also includes overall mental health policy development, including provisions for emergency situations, such as contingency plans, operational MHPSS procedures, identified priorities and criteria for resource allocation, as well as plans for their evaluation and revision.
‘Mapping existing resources, including all available formal and informal support mechanisms, and integration of MHPSS into primary care starting at the emergency response planning stage, are also essential MHPSS preparedness actions that can support resilience during and after radiation emergencies’, it noted.
Additionally, according to the new guidance, during a nuclear emergency, communities at risk of exposure may be asked to implement protective actions, such as sheltering in place or evacuation.
It said, ‘These measures, while necessary, can also result in fear, anxiety, confusion and anger. Care should be taken to provide targeted mental health and well-being support and accurate information to affected people’.
Photo source: WHO/Pierre Virot