To characterize the experience of volunteer disaster psychiatrists who provided pro bono psychiatric services to 9/11 survivors in New York City, from September 12, 2001 to November 20, 2001.
Disaster Psychiatry Outreach (DPO) is a non-profit organization founded in 1998 to provide volunteer psychiatric care to people affected by disasters and to promote education and research in support of this mission. Data for this study were collected from one-page clinical encounter forms completed by 268 DPO psychiatrists for 2 months after 9/11 concerning 848 patients served by the DPO 9/11 response program at the New York City Family Assistance Center.
In this endeavor, 268 psychiatrist volunteers evaluated 848 individuals and provided appropriate interventions. The most commonly recorded clinical impressions indicated stress-related and adjustment disorders, but other conditions such as bereavement, major depression, and substance abuse/dependence were also observed. Free samples were available for one sedative and one anxiolytic agent; not surprisingly, these were the most commonly prescribed medications. Nearly half of those evaluated received psychotropic medications.
In the acute aftermath of the attacks of September 11, 2001, volunteer psychiatrists were able to provide services in a disaster response setting, in which they were co-located with other disaster responders. These services included psychiatric assessment, provision of medication, psychological first aid, and referrals for ongoing care. Although systematic diagnoses could not be confirmed, the fact that most patients were perceived to have a psychiatric diagnosis and a substantial proportion received psychotropic medication, suggests potential specific roles for psychiatrists that are unique and different from roles of other mental health professionals in the early post-disaster setting. In addition to further characterizing post-disaster mental health needs and patterns of service provision, future research should focus on the short- and long-term effects of psychiatric interventions, such as providing acute psychotropic medication services and assessing the effectiveness of traditional acute post-disaster interventions including crisis counseling and psychological first aid.