UMFK Class Prepares Students for Work in Disaster Behavioral Health

Published: Sep. 21, 2022 at 3:09 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn


Throughout history, people have always given aid and comfort to each other during and after times of disaster, but one aspect that is often overlooked is the mental well-being of survivors. NewsSource8′s Brian Bouchard takes a look at the training being provided to UMFK students regarding Disaster Behavioral Health.

Much like sifting through the rubble of a collapsed building, Disaster Behavioral Health is a response to an emergency situation that addresses the mental wellbeing of those affected. Instead of wrapping a survivor in bandages, Disaster Behavior Health specialists triage individuals mental health, and render psychological first aid.

“Disaster Behavioral Health is an element or a component of responding to critical incidents. We know often times there can be a lot of mental health needs, trauma, crisis and this is really preparing students, not only for their potential careers, but to fill roles in our communities as responders so that when an event happens, there is a workforce ready to go and respond and support people who are affected by those incidents.” - Dr. Shawn Graham – Asst. Prof of Counseling, UMFK

The Behavioral Science, Nursing and Public Safety programs at the University of Maine at Fort Kent have all come together to receive training and certification on elements of Disaster Behavioral Health response. Dr. Shawn Graham, Assistant Professor of Counseling at UMFK says by providing the same training to those in different fields that have a hand in disaster response, the students have the same vocabulary and are able to better understand their role in rendering aid. Graham says he and his colleagues have coordinated with the Aroostook Emergency Management Agency and AdCare Educational Institute of Maine to provide this comprehensive training to the students.

“We are trying to be intentional in how we’re preparing students for their careers in the field, and we know they’re going to be working with people from different disciplines so it’s been a wonderful group of colleagues who have worked together from nursing, behavioral science, and public safety to have students train, learn and practice together before they even get out in the field” says Graham.

“Probably in the early 70′s they started looking at some of the impacts, some of the reactions that people would have after earthquakes and fires. 9/11 really synthesized the need to have a behavioral health component when working with survivors.”

Kathleen Wescott is the former Program Director for Disaster Behavioral Health Services for the Maine CDC. She says Disaster Behavior Health Response is very similar to mental health services in a clinical setting, but addresses the individuals needs in the direct aftermath of an incident.

“We go to where they are, so if they’re at a red cross shelter, if they’re at a church, if they’re at a school after a school shooting, we would go to them, we would follow up with them. We would work with the local community providers though because we wouldn’t want to be that front facing, we want to support the resources and staff that are already doing work in the community by giving them resources, extra people, somebody that they can rely on for their own mental health support, so we come in behind to augment those community providers and resources.” says Wescott.

The students will undergo classes regarding Disaster Behavioral Health, Psychological first aid and more before their culminating exercise in October, where they will conduct a practical exercise around a school shooting scenario.

Brian Bouchard, NewsSource8