Government and Regulations

Disaster Responders Need Care, Too

SAMHSA supports the mental health of disaster responders with resources to reduce the amount of burnout and compassion fatigue.


It’s a sad sign of the times that “disaster behavioral health” is a category of mental health care. The Disaster Technical Assistance Center (DTAC) of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration prepares states, territories, tribes, and local entities to deliver an effective behavioral health-related response to disasters.

Whether natural or manmade, the DTAC recognizes the toll disasters take on everyone and have multiple options for helping the people who assist the victims. Those options include webinars and podcasts on resilience and stress management, such as “Understanding Compassion Fatigue and Compassion Satisfaction: Tips for Disaster Responders.”

The Deployment Supports for Disaster Behavioral Health Responders and Self-Care for Disaster Behavioral Health Responders presentations offer advice on every step of disaster response from pre- to post-deployment. “Skills applied in outpatient clinical treatment offices are not the same as disaster response skills,” the DTAC cautions in a presentation. It also advises that the key to resiliency is learning how to identify the symptoms of stress and using available support whenever needed.

The presentations emphasize practical self-care to mitigate such effects as secondary traumatic stress—that is, the experience of trauma symptoms as a result of exposure to clients’ trauma. It was recommended that disaster responders should rest and avoid following all response activities when off duty. Responders also should prepare for physical symptoms such as headaches and exhaustion, and emotional ones such as irritability.

SAMHSA urges disaster responders to monitor compassion fatigue, compassion satisfaction, and burnout regularly.

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