Not long after the tsunami and earthquake in Japan, tornadoes and fires have wreaked havoc in areas of the United States, and many people have been displaced from their homes and some have even lost their lives or have been injured. The results of the natural disasters have put a burden on the mental health for many individuals, but there are some ways to cope even in these circumstances.
Jane Webber, a certified disaster response crisis counselor in New Jersey and a co-author of a recent book for the American Counseling Association called “Terrorism, Trauma and Tragedies: A Counselor’s Guide to Preparing and Responding,” said in an email that the first way to help people who have been displaced by the recent natural disasters is to “connect with them in a respectful, compassionate way.”
It’s important to help survivors feel safe and comfortable, as well as meet their basic needs.
“Provide for their immediate physical needs with practical assistance like blankets, water, cell phones, and help in finding loved ones who have been separated from them,” Webber said. “This non-intrusive, supportive connection is called psychological first aid.”
Another important aspect of helping survivors is to listen to their needs. Helping the community and families is also beneficial, since they need to rebuild their lives, yet they are also “resilient and will recover,” she said.
“Help them make meaning of losing their homes when they are ready to tell their story,” Webber added.
Survivors will experience a variety of emotions, and people who already have mental disorders could be affected even more severely.
“People with mental health disorders will struggle with the distress of the disaster and the added burden of being displaced,” Webber said. “They may be overwhelmed and unable to cope.”
Some survivors might even develop post-traumatic stress disorder, and counselors are available after many natural disasters to provide assistance and help them recover, she said.
“I have found that connecting with and involving survivors in their recovery in these first days helps them return to normalcy more quickly,” Webber said.