Mitigating the psychosocial impacts of & community engagement and resilience during radiation emergencies

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The NEA Expert Group on Non‑Radiological Public Health Aspects of Radiation Emergency Planning and Response (EGNR) is developing an operational approach for mitigating the mental health and psychosocial impacts of radiation emergencies. In this context, the EGNR, jointly with the World Health Organization (WHO), organised two interconnected web-based conferences to explore how the experience and lessons from non-nuclear crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, could help countries to improve Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) in the event of a nuclear or radiological or nuclear emergency.

During these web events invited international experts shared their respective experiences, research findings and views on two main issues: 1) Mitigation of psychological impacts; and 2) Community engagement and resilience throughout the entire emergency cycle, from preparedness and response to recovery.
The first workshop was held on 26 June 2020 to explore the mitigation of the psychological impacts of various types of crises, such as the COVID‑19 pandemic, natural disasters and nuclear accidents. While there is no one‑size‑fits‑all approach, the panellists agreed on the need for a generic operational framework that addresses mental health and psychosocial needs arising due to radiological emergencies. This framework should integrate guidance for adaptation to regional, cultural, social and economic features. With such a framework, decision making could shift from a radiological protection‑centred strategy to a more holistic view of health protection that also includes mental health and psychosocial support.
The second web‑based workshop was held on 10 July 2020 to explore community engagement and resilience in various types of crises, such as the COVID‑19 pandemic, natural disasters and nuclear accidents. Community engagement is more and more considered as a key concept by policy makers to support the decision making process and is needed in every phase of the nuclear emergency cycle, especially during recovery where community efforts can be underpinned through risk evaluation and communication. During the panel discussion, NEA Director-General Magwood highlighted the importance of effective communication and noted that care must be taken to ensure community leaders represent their wider communities and do not exacerbate existing social tensions. Psychological impacts of emergencies vary depending on many factors such as gender, age, individual job situations, housing, and levels of activity, as well as availability of and access to social support. This underlines the necessity for considering both individual and community-level circumstances during radiation emergencies, since these two levels exhibit a complex interplay.

The main findings from these two events are summarized here.

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