MU gets grant for mental-health training to help disaster victims

A University of Missouri professor will use a $2.4 million federal grant to train mental health providers to handle the long-term emotional repercussions of natural and man-made disasters.

J. Brian Houston, a disaster communications expert, will put the grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration toward establishing a Terrorism and Disaster Center. The grant is the largest ever for the Department of Communications, part of the MU College of Arts and Science.

“From the Sept. 11 attacks to Hurricane Katrina, the United States has experienced a wide variety of disasters in the 21st century, and it is unlikely that the future will be easier for us or the rest of the world,” Houston said. “The more we know about how to prepare and respond to crises, the sooner survivors will be able to recover.”

The center will examine the emotional effects on victims who, long after the disaster relief workers have gone, are left to cope and rebuild.

“In the immediate aftermath we see a honeymoon phase in which other communities and national media rally around disaster victims,” Houston said. “After that phase, survivors may experience disillusionment as they try to cope with a new, altered reality without their loved ones or homes and no longer receive widespread attention and expressions of sympathy.”