Date of Award


Document Type

Union College Only

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



First Advisor

Andrew Morris




health, mental, disaster, relief, disasters


Although disasters are frequent events in American history, mental health services for victims is a relatively recent interest. Concern for psychological well-being became a significant component of disaster response and relief in the past thirty years. The history of how mental health developed into an integral component of disaster relief has remained relatively unexplored. This thesis examines the incorporation of mental health in the Disaster Relief Act of 1974. As this thesis will show, the escalated frequency and damage of disasters in the early 1970s prompted a broad revision of federal disaster relief; included in what became the Disaster Relief Act of 1974 was Section 413’s provision for “Crisis Counseling Assistance.” This emerged partly in response to devastation caused by Hurricane Agnes in 1972 in Pennsylvania’s Wyoming Valley. There, the National Institute of Mental Health sponsored an experimental mental health program called Project Outreach. Project Outreach, one of the first federal disaster mental health programs, and a handful of similar programs, paved the way for the incorporation of mental health in the Disaster Relief Act of 1974. Project Outreach and this legislation established a foundation for the expanding role of this fundamental component of the modern response to disaster. The devastation caused by disasters of the early 1970s, converging trends in psychological thinking and mental health care, and interest at the federal level resulted in the inclusion of “Crisis Counseling Assistance” among the 1974 amendments to the Disaster Relief Act. Disasters continue to occur, and in the aftermath of disasters it is clear that concerns for mental health will persist. Mental health and federal involvement have developed a greater role in American life; and with such, the historical background regarding disaster mental health is of great importance.