Psychologists are experts in working with people to resolve the traumas and tragedies that affect their lives. Psychologists help by providing:
- Support for individuals, families and groups
- Public education to prevent or minimize the impact of trauma
- Referral to community resources
- Research-based knowledge on effective coping for individuals, health care professions and the community at large.
Trauma impacts an entire community during disasters (terrorist threats and time of war). Some psychologists extend their professional efforts beyond the consulting room to help the broader community. Such a community effort is reflected in the work of those psychologists who have teamed up with the American Red Cross to form the Disaster Response Network.
When to Consult a Professional for Trauma-Related Stress
Helpful Disaster-Related PDF files:
Stay Safe After the Flood
A Flood...of Emotions: Emotional Responses
A Flood...of Emotions: When Crisis Becomes Chronic
A Flood...of Emotions: Will it Ever End?
Helping the Helpers
- "In tornado-stricken Ala., shock yields to grief" (Bloomberg Business Week, May 9, 2011) APA members Dr. Gaye Vance and Dr. Beverly Thorn quoted.
- "Government's Disaster Response Wins Praise" (New York Times, April 30, 2011) Alabama tornadoes.
- "How can parents help children cope with disasters?" (WRAL.com, April 19, 2011)
- "How People Think and React After a Natural Disaster" (EmpowHer, March 25, 2011)
- "How Do We Persuade Americans to Prepare for Disaster?" (Time Magazine, March 17, 2011)
- "Preparing for disaster builds resilience" (UPI.com, March 17, 2011)
- "Posttraumatic Growth" (New York Times [blog], March 16, 2011)
Social Media and Disasters:
Japan 2011 Earthquake/Tsunami Resources:
- "Tsunami-exposed Tourist Survivors: Signs of Recovery in a 3-year Perspective" (Johanneson, Kerstin Bergh, Ph.D.; Lundin, Tom, M.D., Ph.D.; Fröjd, Thomas, M.A.; Hultman, Christina M., Ph.D.; Michel, Per-Olof, M.D., Ph.D., Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, Volume 199(3), March, 2011, 162-169.
For an overview of the research, read the U.S. News and World Report article, Mental Health Effects Linger After Tsunami, Study Finds."
Long-term follow-up after disaster exposure indicates increased rates of psychological distress. However, trajectories and rates of recovery in large samples of disaster-exposed survivors are largely lacking. A group of 3,457 Swedish survivors temporarily on vacation in Southeast Asia during the 2004 tsunami were assessed by postal questionnaire at 14 months and 3 years after the tsunami regarding post-traumatic stress reactions (IES-R) and general mental health (GHQ-12). There was a general pattern of resilience and recovery 3 years post-disaster. Severe exposure and traumatic bereavement were associated with increased post-traumatic stress reactions and heightened risk for impaired mental health. The rate of recovery was lower among respondents exposed to life threat and among bereaved. Severe trauma exposure and bereavement seem to have considerable long-term inpact on psychological distress and appear to slow down the recovery process. Readiness among health agencies for identification of symptoms and provision of interventions might facilitate optimal recovery.
- "Long-term Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms Among 3,271 Civilian Survivors of the September 11, 2001, Terrorist Attacks on the World Trade Center" (American Journal of Epidemiology, Vol. 173(3), Dec. 29, 2010, 271-281. Laura DiGrande, Yuval Neria, Robert M. Brackbill, Paul Pulliam, and Sandro Galea.
Although the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks were the largest human-made disaster in US history, there is little extant research documenting the attacks' consequences among those most directly affected, that is, persons who were in the World Trade Center towers. Data from a cross-sectional survey conducted 2-3 years after the attacks ascertained the prevalence of long-term, disaster-related posttraumatic stress symptoms and probable posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in 3,271 civilians who evacuated World Trade Center towers 1 and 2. Overall, 95.6% of survivors reported at least 1 current posttraumatic stress symptom."
Trainings and Conferences:
Seeking Disaster Mental Health (DMH) Support
The Red Cross is currently recruiting DMH workers to respond to the recent outbreak of tornadoes. These storms have caused major destruction and loss of life and there is an increased need for DMH volunteers. Once again, we are reaching out to our national partners to help us recruit volunteers.
Thanks to your recent efforts, as of April 28, we were able to deploy 80 DMH volunteers through our national deployment system to relief operations in seven states.
Keep in mind that while current recruitment efforts are underway, the nature of disaster response is ever-changing. The need to fill open positions for DMH volunteers can vary across the affected areas. On large-scale operations, there is often a need for second or third waves of volunteers that can provide a continuity of support after the first wave of volunteers has completed its assignment. In general, it is helpful for DMH volunteers to be in regular contact with their local chapter because there will be future disasters where their support may be needed.
Volunteering in your local community
Local volunteers may be called upon to provide mental health support to volunteers going on national disaster assignments or to Red Cross chapter workers and volunteers who may be experiencing increased stress due to the pressures of coordinating the response to national disaster relief operations while still responding to the ongoing needs of their local community. To volunteer in your local community:
- Find the Red Cross chapter closest to you, please go to the Chapter Locat3r website at www.redcross.org.
- Please be aware that mental health volunteers will be expected to first complete Red Cross-specific training in psychological first aid and disaster mental health to prepare them for their volunteer roles and to ensure the safety and welfare of Red Cross clients and volunteers as well as those from partnering agencies.
- A health status record and background check will also be required.
- Be prepared for there to be a waiting period before Red Cross training is available and before you can provide DMH support in your local community.
Volunteering outside your local community
If you are interested and available for a national deployment for 10 days to 3 weeks:
- Please contact your local Red Cross chapter. To find the Red Cross chapter closest to you, please go to the Chapter Locater website at www.redcross.org.
- As discussed above, please be preapred for the possibility that the Red Cross will not be actively recruiting out-of-state DMH volunteers at the time you approach the local chapter.
- It is hard to ensure that every worker at each of our 600 chapters is aware of the national recruitment efforts being coordinated through the national mental health associations, so please approach your chapter with that in mind.
- Prior to deploying on a national assignment, mental health volunteers must be registered as Red Cross volunteers and will be required to complete Red Cross-specific mental health training in psychological first aid and disaster mental health to prepare them for their volunteer roles and to ensure the safety and welfare of Red Cross clients and volunteers as well as those from partnering agencies.
- A health status record and background check will also be required.
- Be prepared for there to be a waiting period before Red Cross training is available and before you can deploy out of state.
- While you are waiting, any help you can provide to your local community and Red Cross chapter will be of great help. (In special circumstances, you may be notified of alternative training arrangements.)
Volunteer mental health professionals should be prepared to:
- Be patient and flexible. Preparing disaster relief workers to respond in the aftermath of disaster can be extremely challenging. Mental health professionals should be prepared to register as volunteers with their local chapter. This might entail completing the paperwork necessary to establish a volunteer relationship with the Red Cross and provide documentation that verifies their professional credentials and training. The Red Cross places high value in getting the right people, to the right place, doing the right thing, at the right time.
- Complete specific Red Cross training. The Red Cross has a spsecific role in disaster response and disaster mental health volunteers are critical to carrying out that role. Prior to utilizing mental health professionals in the Red Cross chapter or on a disaster relief operation outside their local community, volunteers must receive adequate training and information to prepare them to carry out their duties and responsibilities. New volunteers may be required to take specific Red Cross training courses in Introduction to Disaster, Psychological First Aid, and Foundations in Disaster Mental Health in addition to others.
- Provide non-traditional mental health services. In the aftermath of disaster, psychological first aid, triage, assessment and basic support are the most common and appropriate interventions. Psychotherapy is not appropriate. Instead, early intervention is primarily focused on assisting disaster survivors and response workers in meeting their most basic needs. This includes helping people feel safe and secure, obtain food and water, address their physical health needs (first aid and access to their medications) and connect to their family, friends, and other social support networks. Providing emotional comfort and support and helping individuals focus on their disaster-related needs is the most important mental health intervention you can provide at this time.
- Support local Red Cross chapter activities. Mental health volunteers can assist their local chapter with preparing Red Cross disaster relief works for out-of-state assignments, supporting the families of disaster relief workers out on assignment, providing support to those returning from disaster relief operations, and conducting media interviews on the common reactions individuals experience in the aftermath of disaster. Mental health workers may also be called upon to assist with other chapter support duties such as answering phones, preparing meals, filing, etc. While not typically considered traditional mental health services, helping out with these activities can go a long way to preserving the mental health of other Red Cross workers and staff.
If you are interested in volunteering at your local chapter or for a disaster relief operation outside your community, please contact the Red Cross closest to you. To find your local Red Cross chapter go to the Chapter Locater website at www.redcross.org.
Thank you for your interest in the Red Cross and for your patience and understanding with the fluid environment of disaster services. If you have additional questions or need more information, please contact your local Red Cross chapter directly.
* DMH Eligibility Criteria (must be licensed in the state in which you live)
- Independently-licensed, master's level (or higher) mental health professionals
- State-licensed or state-certified school counselors and school psychologists
- RNs with a certification for psychiatric and mental health nursing to include RN-BC, PMHNP-BD or PMHCNS-BC.