Her attention and thoughtfulness are apparent as she speaks about her role in helping people in Louisiana cope after widespread flooding. “The first thing I do is listen,” says Carolyn Newkirk, a mental health worker for the American Red Cross.
After arriving, Carolyn and her husband Rich, who licensed mental health professionals from Des Moines, Iowa, immediately visited a shelter in southeast Louisiana and have been there every day since.
“The important thing is to listen with empathy, warmth and genuineness,” Rich Newkirk said. “We try to build relationships.”
He said when people are able to recognize their inner strength, it can help them through challenging times. “Many people have faced adversity in their lives, and through talking about their experiences, they can begin to recognize how resilient they actually are,” Rich Newkirk said.
Among the suggestions from Red Cross disaster mental health professionals:
• Take a few deep breaths several times a day. This will reduce your adrenaline and prevent panic.
• Keep in touch with the people you support and who support you.
• Remind yourself that you have been through tough times before and you will be able to manage tough times in your life again.
• Make a list of things you need to do and do one thing at a time.
• Do the things that have worked for you in the past.
• Remember to eat, drink water and sleep.
• If this is not enough and you feel out of control or unable to manage with these disaster-related events, contact the Disaster Distress Helpline for free 24/7 counseling or support at 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746. The Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) sponsors the helpline.
“Planning next steps gives people focus and puts their mind in order,” explains Rich Newkirk. This activity can help people cope by providing them with something to replace the chaos.
Whether it is planning for that next conversation with an aid source, or beginning to make a list of things that need to be taken care of, creating a plan to move forward provides individuals with a foundation to begin taking the next steps.
“Talk to each other and commiserate,” said Shelly Licurse, another Red Cross mental health worker who came from Syracuse, N.Y., to assist in Louisiana.
Shared experiences help people recognize that they are not alone.
Carolyn Newkirk said, “One woman I spoke with told me that she felt better just because I listened.”
RED CROSS RESPONSE
Since the flooding began in Louisiana, the Red Cross has worked with community partners to serve more than 169,500 meals and snacks; hand out more than 42,450 cleaning kits, personal care kits and supplies such as shovels, rakes and gloves; and provided more than 2,700 overnight stays in 30 shelters.
The following Red Cross managed or supported shelters were open overnight with more than 130 residents:
• Saul Adler Community Center – 3900 Westminster Ave., Monroe, LA 71201
• Rayville Civic Center – 706 N. Louisa St., Rayville, LA 71269
• National Guard Armory – 746 E. Railwood Ave., Independence, LA 70466
A community-run shelter is open:
• Caldwell Parish Community Center – 6539 Highway 165 South, Duty Ferry, LA 71418
HOW TO HELP People in Louisiana need your support today. Help by making a gift to Louisiana Floods. Your donation enables the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from these disasters. Call toll free via 855-489-2529, or mail a donation with “Louisiana Floods” in the memo line to your local Red Cross or: American Red Cross of Louisiana, Attention: Helene Vance, 2640 Canal St., New Orleans, LA 70119.
About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit redcross.org or cruzrojaamericana.org, or visit us on Twitter at @RedCross.