By Mimi Teller
Torrance, Calif., resident and retired psychiatrist Claire Damecour only recently joined the American Red Cross volunteer workforce and has already been called to serve those in need through a deployment. In June, Claire traveled to provide assistance to the residents of Fromberg, Livingston and Red Lodge, Montana, following the area’s historic flooding.
Disaster operations can shift at a moment’s notice. When Claire arrived on-site in Montana, the temporary shelter had closed. However, her skillset was leveraged by traveling to the affected communities to lend disaster mental health support and emotional comfort at mobile outreach posts and Multi-Agency Resource Centers (MARCs).
“While some people needed money, most needed someone to muck out their basement,” shared Claire, “I was still able to help a handful of people with their anxieties, loss of appetite, insomnia, nightmares and flashbacks. I also offered support to the Red Cross workforce, giving guidance on how to care for themselves.”
Claire recalled lending solace to a traumatized woman who was rescued by a jet ski from her flooded home for the safety of a friend’s home, only to have the friend’s home flood too. She then fled to another home only to have that flood as well, forcing the woman to find shelter in a fourth home. While the fourth place of refuge sat well above the flood levels, the woman was unable to sleep from the phantom sounds of rushing water she kept thinking she heard heading her way.
Disaster responses vary — some are a hectic whirlwind helping thousands if not millions of affected people in a very short timeframe, and others are a bit more relaxed, supporting community needs as they become apparent. When asked her thoughts on her first deployment, Claire recommended bringing a good book to read for the lulls between meetings with community members, an element she attributes to the hardiness of the locals.
“I met a lot of proud people with a pioneer spirit,” shared Claire. “Many told me ‘I can take care of this; I don’t need any help, others got it worse than me.’ I met very resilient people.”
During disasters, you can use your professional skills as a licensed mental health professional to deliver care and comfort to those affected. To learn more about volunteering, visit redcross.org/volunteer.