History of the Committee

 In 1990, Dr. Elissa Benedek, President of the American Psychiatric Association, established the Task Force on Psychiatric Dimensions of Disaster. The Task Force was extremely active and in 1993 was established as a Committee. The Committee on Psychiatric Dimensions of Disasters works towards the APA’s strategic goals of advocating for patients, supporting education, training and career development in the area of disaster psychiatry, and enhancing the scientific basis of psychiatric care for the victims of disaster.

The Committee has been focused primarily on developing district branch liaison resources in order to allow members to better serve their patients who may be exposed to disasters. This has involved extensive materials mailed to the district branches including videotapes, audiotapes, resource documents as well as the development of primary materials at the APA central office including brochures.

The Committee established the Bruno Lima Award in 1995. The award honors the memory of Bruno Lima, one of the original members of the APA’s Task Force on Psychiatric Dimensions of Disaster and initiator of the first proposal to hold a disaster workshop at the Annual Meeting. As an Associate Professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Dr. Lima was known for his important contributions to disaster studies in South America as well as the development of critical documents relating to the care of disaster victims throughout the world through his work with the World Health Organization. His untimely death from leukemia cut short his opportunities to see his contributions to national policy on the provision of care to disaster victims come to fruition within the APA. This award supports professional values as well as encourages training among psychiatrists in the area of disaster psychiatry.

The Committee has co-sponsored two major conferences relating to disaster psychiatry. The first conference was held in September 1995. Supported by a grant from the Emergency Services and Disaster Relief Branch, Center for Mental Health Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), a consensus conference was held on the role of psychiatrists in disaster. The Executive Summary from this meeting is one of the documents available at this site. In 1996, the American Psychiatric Foundation provided a grant to support a meeting of the APA and leaders in the American Red Cross’s disaster mental health program. The group explored ways in which the statement of understanding signed by the two organizations could be put into action. The Executive Summary from this meeting is also included in this website.

The Committee has been extremely active in providing consultation to members and other health care providers and community leaders, who have requested assistance following disasters in their communities or who have requested the development of education programs to train their members in how to respond. It is also involved at international levels including recently meeting with the Russian delegation visiting the APA and providing consultation to psychiatrists in Kenya following the embassy bombing in 1998.

The Committee has sponsored an introductory course on Disaster psychiatry and a workshop at the Annual Meeting for several years.