Mental health services will be an important part of the response to Hurricane Gustav. Government agencies like FEMA, non-governmental organizations including the Red Cross and area hospitals, and cadres of volunteers from nearly all 50 states are preparing to intervene. More than three million people throughout the Gulf states are estimated to be affected by the storm.
Red Cross representative Joe Becker told local media that the Red Cross is “focusing very hard on our mental health preparations” and also on “deploying large numbers of our mental health professionals to help these people.”
“We want to be there for people who have already seen what awful looks like,” said Becker.
Trauma, especially when it is especially intense and not relieved quickly, can lead to a wide variety of dysphoric feelings and experiences. These include intense anxiety, depression, delerium, and even quasi-manic states where reality testing and judgment are severely impaired. Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans on August 31, 2005, leaving hundreds dead and hundreds of thousands homeless. The city has yet to fully recover, and many residents never returned.
Many of those who remain in New Orleans three years later have had to face tremendous hardship and loss. New Orleans residents are still dealing with the deaths of friends and family, destroyed homes and businesses, and a paucity of government services. Over the past year, New Orleans has achieved some sense of normalcy. Even so, the memories of Katrina are fresh and the new storm has been taken very seriously.
Other towns, less well-known, face similar problems but have fewer resources. Some were destroyed during Katrina. Others have been essentially abandoned. Mental health professionals with crisis intervention experience are especially needed. Interested persons should contact the Red Cross or the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
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