In search of: Disaster mental health

This issue's search example uses the CSA Illumina platform to search for research on several aspects of disaster mental health.


Tsunamis, hurricanes, earthquakes, tornados, floods, mudslides, forest fires, oil spills. All of these natural and manmade disasters can have devastating and long-lasting psychosocial effects on individuals and the communities involved. Individuals' symptoms might include emotional instability, flashbacks, sleep disturbances, interpersonal and social relationship problems, traumatic stress, and physical symptoms. First responders and others working at disaster sites often experience similar symptoms. Communities often face significant structural rebuilding as well as displacement of community members.

Build your search in PsycINFO using advanced search on CSA Illumina

If your area of research is focused on the effects of the disaster, but even more specifically on the response to the disaster, you can start in CSA by running a broad Keyword search. Selecting Keywords from the drop-down menu searches in the title, abstract, and descriptor fields.

Use variants of the main concepts you are interested in searching, applying specific concepts or broader terminology to expand your results.

Because this is in the exploratory stages of research, we will include the concept "disasters" as well as "disaster mental health," "disaster psychology," "disaster response," "disaster recovery," or "disaster preparedness." These are some of the concepts more commonly used in the psychological literature to refer to the response of mental health, medical, and allied health professionals to a natural or manmade disaster.

Because you are more interested in recent trends in this research, limit your search by entering 2000–2011 in the Date Range.

Screen shot of CSA Illumina advanced search

Your results are still quite large, with 3,499 records returned. The tabs show you how many records are journals, books, chapters, and so on, including book reviews and dissertations if you click on the More tab:

Screen shot of CSA Illumina results screen

To retrieve the most relevant results first, select the Sort by option, Relevance Rank. Sorting by Relevance presents the most relevant results first. The relevance is determined using the first eight terms in the descriptor field. The records containing the search term within the descriptor field will be listed first.

Screen shot of CSA Illumina relevance ranking function

Now, scan the results for an article that seems most related to your topic:

Screen shot of CSA Illumina select article function

From within the record display of the result you are interested in, you can fine-tune your search strategy by using the Descriptors to narrow or broaden your search by adding the Descriptors with the Boolean operators AND and OR.

Let's check Emergency Preparedness and use Add to Current Search using AND to narrow:

Screen shot of CSA Illumina search within results function

Set up an Alert

At any point in this search, you can set up an Alert. For example, if you are interested in finding out when research is published in the scholarly literature on an emerging topic such as the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, you can receive an Alert when material on natural disasters is added to the database.

Screen shot of CSA Illumina set an alert function

If you already have a CSA Illumina My Research login you can enter it here, or new users can register by clicking on the link.

Screen shot of CSA Illumina My Research Personal Profile login

Review your search strategy, select a short or full format with or without references, add comments, set expiration date, and select the delivery method. Any time new results are released in the database matching the search strategy, you will receive an email or an RSS alert:

Screen shot of CSA Illumina My Research screen


Screen shot of CSA Illumina manage alerts function

Create an annotated bibliography

On the CSA Illumina platform you have the option to create an annotated bibliography. Click on the link to Save, Print, Email from the results list. You will have the option to perform those functions as well as creating an annotated bibliography and exporting your references to RefWorks:

Screen shot of CSA Illumina annotated bibliography function

Selected references Using Quik Bib

Screen shot of CSA Illumina Quik Bib to display selected references

Build your search in PsycEXTRA: Search PsycEXTRA on APA PsycNET

The number of natural and manmade disasters in recent years seems to be increasing. What information is available on public web sites on disasters? Can we find some very recent publications on disasters?

We will go to the APA PsycNET platform and select PsycEXTRA as the database to search. We can cast a wide net in our search and enter "disaster*" and select Keywords from the drop-down menu:

Screen shot of APA PsycNET PsycEXTRA main search screen

The results are numerous and mostly published in the last 10 years:

Screen shot of APA PsycNET PsycEXTRA results screen

These results include magazines, press releases, newspaper articles, reports, brochures and pamphlets, and newsletters, most of which have links to the full text.

Here are some sample titles:


  • Role of the African American Church in Overcoming Long-Term Disaster Responses.
    Aten, Jamie D.; Topping, Sharon; Tucker, Brent T.
  • Psychology Graduate Students' Role in Psychological First Aid Training.
    Ayhens-Johnson, Knute; Belsher, Brad; Bongar, Bruce
  • Treating traumatized children.
    Clay, Rebecca A.
    Monitor on Psychology; 2010; 41(7).
  • Mobile forensics laboratory helps Cedar Rapids CSI recover from devastating flood.
    Cote, Bill
    National Institute of Justice Journal; 2009; No. 264.
  • Workforce Issues in New Orleans and Postdisaster Recovery.
    Hoffpauir, Sarah
  • Permanence eludes some Katrina victims: Many still live in trailers, rentals.
    Hsu, Spencer S.
    The Washington Post; 2009; 132(190).
  • Calming the tremors: Psychologists provide expertise in the aftermath of the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile.
    Novotney, Amy
    Monitor on Psychology; 2010; 41(4).
  • In Haiti, mental health system is in collapse.
    Sontag, Deborah
    The New York Times; 2010; 159(54,985).
  • GAO Cites FEMA Preparedness Gaps.
    Vogel, Steve
    The Washington Post; 2009; 132(185).
  • W. VA. Mine Disaster Points to Need to Apply Psychological Research to Improve Mine Safety: A Conversation with Dr. Steve Shope.
  • Earthquake in Chile: Situation Report #8.
  • Crisis Data Management: A Forum Guide to Collecting and Managing Data About Displaced Students.
  • Counselors Help NJ Haitian-Americans Deal with Trauma of Earthquake.
  • NCCTS Leadership: Psychological First Aid.
  • "Safe hospitals" on the global political agenda.
    Disasters: Preparedness and Mitigation in the Americas; 2009; No. 112.
  • RAND Gulf States to Conduct Further Study of New Orleans Residents Displaced by Hurricane Katrina.
  • Psychological first aid utilization by health systems.
    The Dialogue; 2009; 5(3).