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Mental Health Volunteers Provide Service and Care in Parkland

Dianne Britton got the phone call from the Red Cross the morning after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. They needed her to support the Red Cross mission of providing comfort and hope to the survivors and the families of the 17 victims. By Friday afternoon, she had arrived in Parkland, Fla.

Dianne has gained plenty of experience responding to disasters as a licensed clinical social worker and longtime Red Cross mental health volunteer. In the aftermath of traumatic events, providing psychological first aid is as essential as tending to physical wounds. People are scared, emotional and don’t know where to turn. Research shows that when quick mental health intervention happens, people recover better and bounce back more quickly. Dianne compares it to applying a bandage early on.

“The Red Cross can stand things up quickly, assess people and refer them as needed to local resources, and also support the teachers, counselors and organizations that then support the kids. Since we’re not in the community for long-haul counseling, we don’t want to take the place of what happens locally, we just want to support, augment and facilitate while the community is regrouping.”

Sadly, the Red Cross has accrued a lot of knowledge and experience dealing with this kind of tragedy – what works and what doesn’t work. In Parkland, the Red Cross along with several partners opened a Family Assistance Center to address the immediate needs and provide information, support and resources to those directly affected.

“The FAC was located in a sacred space, [in the same park] as one of the big memorial sites. That offered us a continual and uplifting reminder of what we were there to do. Every time we walked out of the building, we got to see why we were there.”

In all her deployments with the Red Cross, including the Boston Marathon bombing, Pulse nightclub shooting and the Las Vegas shooting, Dianne is inspired by the communities and her fellow volunteers.

“I see mental health professionals dropping everything they were doing to be here. They were called right after the event – ‘can you drop everything to come today or tomorrow?’ – and they did. My takeaway is how much everybody pulled together to make this the best possible experience for the community that they could. This is America’s ‘do something.’ I think that’s quite remarkable.”