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From the Editor

Help for both mass and personal disasters

Vol. 4, No. 10 / October 2005

We all watched with horror the news reports of Hurricane Katrina submerging New Orleans and devastating the Gulf Coast. As individuals and as a profession, we want to help—but what can we do?

Many of us have worked with victims of mass disasters at some point in our careers, and we all have worked with victims of individual disasters, such as fires, auto accidents, and domestic violence. If you are like me, you have sometimes felt helpless in the face of disaster and wondered whether what we do makes a difference.

Fortunately, our training equips us for disasters, whether mass or individual. Two articles in this month’s issue address psychiatric responses to trauma:

  • Drs. Patricia Gerbarg and Richard Brown examine data on why yoga breathing practices may rapidly reduce posttraumatic stress, anxiety, and depression in survivors of natural and man-made disasters, including Hurricane Katrina, the 9/11 World Trade Center terrorist attacks, and many others.
  • Drs. Charles Gillespie and Charles Nemeroff document the association between early life stress (particularly child abuse or neglect) and what appears to be a neurobiologically unique form of depression in adults.

Together, these articles suggest strategies to help disaster victims in the short run and patients with chronic depressive symptoms in the long run.

Of course, we need more research to refine our approaches to patients battered by storms or cruelty, but at least we have some guidance. Under the circumstances, we do the best we can.

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