Support After a Disaster Includes Mental Health

IMG_0626When a disaster strikes, there are obvious needs that people see like shelter, food, and clothing – but there are other needs that are very important as well, like addressing mental health.  

Disaster Mental Health volunteer Trina Shepherd is in Fayetteville, North Carolina. She is part of a team that is checking in on the mental health of those who have been impacted by Hurricane Florence. She describes the work she is doing as “practical and emotional, and helping people get ready for the next steps that are coming.”   

Volunteers like Trina aren’t there to engage in therapy sessions, they are there to listen and to make a difficult situation a little more bearable for the people going through it. “Disasters can be very traumatic, and people can become frozen in that trauma. We’re helping and listening,” Trina said, “and by the end of the conversation you see people relaxing and sharing. I like to listen to their stories, they are important.” 

Disaster Mental Health also is important for Red Cross staff. Trina explained how members of her team help prepare staff for difficult situations and the realities they may face in the field, arming them with the knowledge and tools they will need when things get tough. They’re also available to help any staff members who are struggling personally while they are working. 

Sometimes people impacted by disasters are already struggling with issues that impact their mental health before a disaster. “There was a man who was terminally ill in a shelter, he was there with his wife and daughter. They shared memories with me and we talked through things.  He used to be a trucker and really lit up when we talked about it.” Trina said.  

The Disaster Mental Health Team is busy visiting shelters and meeting with people who need someone to talk to.  

Story by Anna Teehan/Canadian Red Cross  

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