When disaster strikes, the American Red Cross is there, giving help to people in need. One type of assistance the Red Cross provides is disaster mental health services to help people handle their situation, most recently after the tragic explosion and apartment fire which occurred this week in Silver Spring, Maryland.
In Silver Spring, many people were injured and several residents lost their lives. Red Cross disaster workers opened a shelter, provided meals, health services and casework to help people plan their next steps. Also available was emotional support from Red Cross disaster mental health workers. More than 170 people have already been helped. The Red Cross is also supporting the emergency responders at the scene.
Christie Rodgers, senior associate for disaster mental health with the Red Cross, described how the explosion and fire forced hundreds of people from their homes in the middle of the night. Rodgers said the scene is still an active one with fire and search and rescue personnel on hand.
Explaining what disaster mental health workers do, Rodgers said, “we meet with people and evaluate their emotional needs, talk with them about their situation and how their reactions are normal with the stress they are facing. For many, it is the worst day of their lives and they are often surprised by the emotions they are feeling. We explain how these reactions are normal.”
Rodgers continued that Red Cross disaster mental health workers also handle crisis intervention and refer people who need more help to services available in the community. Helping children cope is also important, she said, as they are most vulnerable to the chaos and stress of the situation and don’t have the words or ability to describe what they are experiencing. “We help parents help their kids understand the situation.” You can hear more from Rodgers here.
Red Cross disaster mental health workers are licensed mental health specialists who can meet the emotional needs of disaster victims, affected communities and other Red Cross responders, identifying and prioritizing individuals who need additional support. These disaster mental health workers partner with community resources to ensure people get the mental health support they need as they rebuild their lives.
Across the country, the Red Cross has more than 3,500 licensed mental health specialists ready to deploy to help provide coping and problem-solving strategies to people most in need, and also to offer care and comfort to Red Cross volunteers who are away from home, working long hours with little sleep to help emergency victims. They provide an important service and truly touch the lives of those they help.
This summer, Red Cross disaster mental health volunteers have responded to numerous emergencies that have overwhelmed so many people, including the historic flooding in West Virginia, the wildfires in the west and the tragic shooting in Orlando.
During the California wildfires last year, Cobb Mountain Elementary School miraculously survived the devastating Valley Fire, but a third of the students and many teachers and staff lost their homes when the two-week-long inferno roared through their tiny community. A Red Cross disaster mental health volunteer traveled from Maine to provide mental health support and improve the emotional well-being of the elementary school community. You can read how grateful the community was for volunteer Ellin Ruffner’s support here.
HOW TO HELP Every eight minutes, the Red Cross responds to a disaster. You can help people affected by visiting redcross.org, calling 1-800-RED CROSS or texting to 90999 to make a $10 donation.
BECOME A RED CROSS VOLUNTEER Another way people can help is to become a Red Cross volunteer. The donated time and talent of a Red Cross volunteer can make a real difference in people’s lives. Go to redcross.org to learn more about volunteer opportunities and how to submit a volunteer application.