Supporting Community Level Workers

January 23, 2011
Department of Social Work, Amritapuri

During the past two decades, an increase in natural and man-made disasters has seen Indian social workers, psychologists and epidemiologists deepen their studies to help facilitate better disaster management.

Psychosocial DisasterThis point was highlighted by Mr. Renjith R. Pillai of the Amrita Department of Social Work at Amritapuri, who recently presented a paper titled Psychosocial Care for Disaster Survivors: A Review of Various Approaches and Modalities at the annual conference of the Indian Society of Professional Social Work in Ernakulam.

The paper was co-authored by Dr. Sekar, Professor, Department of Psychiatric Social Work, National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS).

“Disasters temporarily disturb the social functioning of communities; sometimes disorder continues for months or even years,” he noted. “Schools and businesses are forced to close, power and water shortages are experienced and transportation is halted.”

“Mental health issues emerge and the need for assistance from outside agencies, NGOs, the state or the central government arises.”

Explaining that NIMHANS was the first to initiate psychological care support in India, Mr. Pillai compared different approaches used for post-disaster needs and psychosocial care intervention.

Psychosocial DisasterOutlining the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder framework commonly used in the West, he stated, “Critical Incident Stress Defusing is administered within twelve hours of the disaster, to allow people to vent and process their thoughts, emotions and experiences.”

Emphasizing that community-based psychosocial intervention is helpful to prevent stigmatizing individuals or groups within communities, he called for greater support of community level workers who can provide a disaster-affected community adequate support that is locally accessible and culturally relevant.

These community level workers could be health-education-welfare personnel, members of local panchayati raj institutions, self-help groups, National Cadet Corps or National Service Scheme volunteers.

“Because there is such a dearth of social workers, community level workers may be the answer,” he emphasized. “Social workers have a responsibility to train them in the needed skills.”

“NIMHANS trains community level workers in basic knowledge and skills, giving special focus to children, women and the elderly,” he clarified.

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