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Disaster victims to benefit from new facility

December 13th, 2012

$2.4 million has been awarded to Brian Houston, an assistant communication professor, for research to help health care providers get a better understanding of the mental health needs of those who have survived natural disasters or acts of terrorism. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration awarded the grant to establish a Terrorism and Disaster Center at MU in hopes to better flag problems that people experience in the months after disasters. This research and funding are in support of Mizzou Advantages’s initiative One Health, One Medicine. 

Story by The Columbia Tribune

A University of Missouri researcher has been awarded funding to help health care providers get a better understanding of the mental health needs of those who have survived natural disasters or acts of terrorism.

Brian Houston, an assistant communication professor, received the $2.4 million grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to establish a Terrorism and Disaster Center at MU.

The idea is to better flag problems that people experience in the months after disasters — when the news coverage, donations and other forms of support dry up.

“Usually, there’s a honeymoon phase where the community comes together, are on the same page, supports one another and has the resources to help in recovery,” Houston said. “Eventually, that time passes, and commonly what we see is a disillusionment phase. There was this outpouring of support, and now it’s gone, but the work of rebuilding the community or one’s house or the work of helping grieving friends and family members who were lost continues on. Often, that can be a difficult time for individuals experiencing disasters that one doesn’t think about a lot.”

The Terrorism and Disaster Center will work with school teachers, counselors and mental health practitioners in areas that have experienced disasters, including Joplin and New Orleans, to develop, implement and evaluate the effectiveness of crisis interventions. Houston envisions staff also working with St. Louis and Kansas City providers because the same strategies could be applied to victims of perpetual violence in cities.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the effects of a disaster, terrorist attack or other emergency can result in long-lasting problems such as stress and violence that could hurt family relationships and dynamics. Post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse also are common post-disaster symptoms, Houston said.

Original Story

The grant is the largest the communications department has received and will provide funding to keep the center open through Sept. 30, 2016.

In Joplin, where a tornado hit in 2011, mental health needs were a high priority for immediate and long-term disaster response planning, said Vicky Mieseler, Ozark Center vice president of clinical services. Within a few months, Ozark Center began seeing spikes in domestic violence, gambling and substance use. Mieseler said her center is “thrilled” to work with MU on the grant.