During times of disaster, the American Red Cross recognizes that emergency needs not only involve food, water and relief items, but, equally as important, mental health assistance. Whether at the Newtown school shooting, the Boston Marathon bombing, the Washington, D.C., Navy Yard shooting, or other tragic incidents, the Red Cross is always ready to provide emotional support to those affected.
On Oct. 16, Red Cross Disaster Mental Health (DMH) professionals from across the state took part in a roundtable held at Greater New York Red Cross Regional headquarters in Manhattan to discuss how Red Cross mental health workers can better help those affected in the aftermath of unthinkable disaster.
The DMH experts discussed innovative techniques and lessons learned from Newtown, Boston, the Navy Yard shooting, and other mass casualty incidents. Panel members also reflected on the upcoming one-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy.
“In sharing practice wisdom,” said Diane Ryan, a panel member and regional director of mental health and partner services for the Greater NY Red Cross, “we increased the knowledge base of DMH in mass casualty incidents and furthered the development of the Red Cross DMH role.”
She added, “Discussions on the Sandy anniversary served to better prepare our mental health professionals to continue to support those affected during the next weeks.”
Red Cross mental health professionals are licensed psychiatrists, psychologists, psychiatric nurses, social workers, school counselors and therapists. They volunteer to lend their expertise following disasters across the United States and sometimes around the world to help victims and relief workers deal with the trauma and stresses of disasters.
Some topics discussed at the roundtable included the need to understand that still-unfolding tragedies like the marathon bombing engender a deeper-than-usual sense of vulnerability—in DMH workers, in the general public, and in those directly affected. Also touched on were ways for Red Cross workers to help take care of each other during these incidents.
For example, during the Newtown response, DMH colleagues spent time en route to Connecticut with colleagues, preparing themselves emotionally, they leaned on each other for support during the event, and they kept in daily contact with supportive friends and family back home.
According to Tara Hughes, an American Red Cross disaster mental health chief, another important aspect of being able to emotionally support those affected by tragedy is the work Red Cross responders are carrying out during and after an incident.
“When I do this work I’m not out there alone,” Hughes said. “Mental health people can’t do what we do until everybody’s basic needs are met, and that’s what everyone else does in the Red Cross.”
Here are five top coping tips for the one-year anniversary of Sandy:
1. Simplify your schedule for the week before and several days after the anniversary date.
2. Limit media exposure—no TV, radio or newspapers.
3. Schedule time with those you find supportive.
4. Expect yourself to have reactions that mimic your reaction from a year ago, and know these are predictable and shouldn't worry you. Remember what coping has worked for you in the past and implement those skills
5. If you have children in your life, speak with them in age appropriate ways about what they may experience. Know that behavioral regression in children is common as an anniversary reaction.
If you need additional support, consider calling the Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990 or Project Hope 1-800- 543-3638.
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/gny or visit us on Twitter at @RedCrossNY.