The role of the American Red Cross Disaster Mental Health Volunteers often goes beyond helping the client. Many times, it is other volunteers who need help coping with particularly difficult situations.
This was the case recently following a deadly fire in Southeast Tennessee. Disaster Mental Health Volunteers arrived at the scene to provide immediate emotional support to clients and family members as well as to the first responders.
After providing emotional support, comfort, and immeidiate needs to the survivors, the volunteers were left deeply affected by the tragedy. Though they were there to assist the survivors, our Disaster Action Team Volunteers, Bill and Yvonne Wilson both saw themselves in the shoes of this family. They too, had suffered the sudden loss of a close family member. Their own experience with tragedy put them in a unique position to fully empathize with this family. They truly believed that their ability to connect was appreciated and made the process of helping more comfortable for their clients. In her own words, Mrs. Wilson said she “felt like we were meant to be there.”
Whenever there is a disaster that involves the loss of life, Red Cross trained counselors are notified.
When asked about her interaction with the Red Cross Disaster Mental Health Responders, Mrs. Wilson recalled that the whole Red Cross team worked together to support the family and each other through the difficult hours that followed the fire.
She also noted that the Mental Health Volunteer contacted her in the days following the incident to check in on her. She expressed her worry in the past that she may not be fully mentally prepared for a major disaster similar to Hurricane Katrina, but she was really surprised how emotionally impacted she and her husband were by this case.
The Disaster Mental Health Volunteers are all licensed professionals in the field of mental health. In addition, they undergo specialized training with the Red Cross in assisting clients and relief workers during crisis situations. These volunteers adhere to the strict protocol of their professions while at the same time carrying out the mission of the Red Cross to provide support to those affected by disaster. In addition, the Red Cross offers all of our volunteers a class called Psychological First Aid to teach them skills to assist clients through the pain, loss, and grief that often follow disaster. This class can also teach volunteers coping skills that they can use for themselves when they find their own emotions provoked.
Like Mrs. Wilson pointed out when describing her experience, “No one can tell how they will react in a situation.” Disasters can affect all parties, including those who are there to help. To be involved often means we feel pain right alongside our clients. The Red Cross is there, not just for our communities, but also for our dedicated volunteers.