Everybody Has Issues:
The impact of hurricanes on mental health, part two


Last week, I mentioned that the Red Cross solicited mental health clinicians trained in disaster responsiveness or crisis management to come to the aide of the survivors of recent hurricanes. Clinicians will follow the Red Cross’s PsySTART™ Behavioral Health Triage System, which involves asking survivors a series of “yes/no” questions, as follows:


– Saw/heard death or serious injury of others? – *

– Felt they (or loved one) almost died?

– Received physical injury or self/loved one is physically ill?

– Received medical treatment (self/loved one)?

– Death of family member, friend, schoolmate, pet? *

– Separated from family member?

– Child separated from parent?

– Family member missing?*

– Home not livable?

– Expresses thought/intent to harm self?***

– Expresses thought/intent to seriously harm others?***

* = If yes, a Disaster Mental Health professional is contacted as soon as possible.

*** = If yes, immediate contact is made with the site supervisor and the Disaster Mental Health Professional. Arrangements will be made for those with intent to be securely transported to a hospital to keep self/others safe, trumping their individual rights to confidentiality. With homicidal threats, the clinician has an additional responsibility to notify police and the intended victim of the threat.

Clinicians also provide care according to the Red Cross’s list of Psychological First Aid, as follows:

– Make a connection

– Help people be safe

– Be kind, calm, and compassionate

– Meet people’s basic needs

– Listen

– Give realistic reassurance

– Encourage good coping

– Help people connect

– Give accurate and timely information

– Make a referral to a Disaster Mental Health worker (as needed)

While deployed, clinicians trained in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing may provide that form of therapeutic care for people meeting the criteria for trauma related disorders such as Acute Stress Disorder and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. EMDR is one of the most effective treatments for trauma.

Other people may require individual or group counseling services for bereavement, or for their symptoms of anxiety, depression, and anger. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Solution-focused Therapy, and Client-Centered Therapy are commonly used approaches for these issues. Clinicians may provide the service or refer people to other professionals nearby. Agencies will assist in connecting survivors with food, shelter, and other services during and throughout recovery.

All survivors will go through an adjustment to their new circumstances. Those who get stuck may need therapy. Watch for an article coming soon on how to navigate difficult transitions.

Finally, the first responders and clinicians assessing and providing services take measures to care for themselves to avoid vicarious (secondhand) trauma and/or burnout.

Stockton is a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor and owner of Inner Peace Coaching & Counseling, located at 4030 Mount Carmel Tobasco Road in Cincinnati. For more information call 513.201.5949 or visit www.lindastockton.com.