Toward best-practice post-disaster mental health promotion for children: Sri Lanka

Commers, M. J., Morival, M., & Devries, M. W. (2012). Toward best-practice post-disaster mental health promotion for children: Sri Lanka. Health promotion international.

There is a pressing need for low-cost intervention models to promote mental health among children in the wake of natural disasters. This article describes an evaluation of one such model: the Happy/Sad Letter Box (HSLB) Project, a mental health promotion intervention designed to minimize trauma in children, resulting from the Indian Ocean tsunami of 26 December 2004. The HSLB Project was implemented in 68 schools in Sri Lanka\'s Hambantota District from April 2005 forward. Methods included questionnaires (n = 203), interviews, and group consultation with schoolchildren, teachers, teacher counsellors, principals, educational zone directors and parents. The HSLB intervention was seen as relevant and non-stigmatized, cost-effective if implemented after initial recovery steps, anecdotally effective in identifying and helping resolve trauma, accommodating the full range of children\'s daily stressors and sustainable. Gender, children\'s age, school size and the level of the tsunami impact for response were found to correlate with response differences. Along four dimensions previously identified in the literature (ability to triage, matching of intervention timing and focus, ability to accommodate a range of stressors and context compatibility), the HSLB Project is a promising intervention model (1) for children; (2) at group-level; (3) relating to natural disasters. The Nairobi Call to Action [WHO (2009) Nairobi Call to Action for Closing the Implementation Gap in Health Promotion. Geneva: World Health Organization] emphasized the importance of mainstreaming health promotion into priority programme areas, specifically including mental health. The HSLB Project represents the integration of health promotion practice into disaster preparedness mental health infrastructure.

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