Reducing Post-Hurricane Distress in Baton Rouge, La., with InCourage Mental Health Services

Increasing the capacity to screen and treat post-disaster distress in Louisiana and promoting awareness of the services available

In 2006, the Baton Rouge Area Foundation created and implemented InCourage, a pilot program to provide mental health services to adults in Baton Rouge La., in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Five foundations provided support.

InCourage is a 10-session manualized intervention developed to address a range of cognitive, emotional and behavioral reactions to disaster. (A manualized treatment is a set protocol of actions; if a therapist follows that series of steps then a particular result can be expected.)

InCourage was designed to fill the gap between short-term crisis counseling funded by the federal government and mental health services for the chronically mentally ill available through state and local community organizations. The 10 treatment sessions are divided into three main areas: psychoeducation, coping skills and cognitive restructuring.

Key Findings: An evaluation team led by Fran Norris, PhD, director of the National Center for Disaster Mental Health Research, reported that:

  • Of more than 400 clients that were referred to InCourage from December 2006 to September 2007, 176 (44%) enrolled in the program.
  • Most had high scores on seven or more psychological symptoms, including core symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Overall, clients experienced a significant reduction in distress after treatment, compared with before, according to an analysis of 51 clients for whom the researchers had complete data.

In a separate evaluation, Kermit A. Crawford, PhD, of the Center for Multicultural Mental Health, Boston University School of Medicine, and Dow A. Wieman, PhD, of the Human Services Research Institute, concluded that:

  • The InCourage program design was appropriate to deliver high-quality mental health services to individuals in need.
  • The design was effective for developing a major program intervention in a vast emergent mental-health crisis.