Emergency Response and Mental Health
As we have just recognized the fifteenth anniversary of 9/11, we are reminded once again of the severe impact that these events had on thousands of individuals. Those who witnessed it first hand, responded to help due to their job responsibilities, or just watched the events unfold, were affected and everyone had to find healthy ways to cope with the devastation. There are many other emergency situations (natural disasters, car accidents, sudden health scares, etc.) that require a response and it is important for us to educate ourselves so that we will be ready should we find ourselves suddenly in an emergency.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (www.emergency.cdc.gov) is one of the best resources for professional and practical advice on how to cope with a disaster or traumatic event. They recognize that stress, worry, and fear are very common responses during and after a disaster or public emergency and suggest that we pay attention to how we and our family members are feeling.
Everyone needs to recognize that feelings of anxiety, grief and worry are very natural and expected but everyone will react differently. For example, after a devastating house fire where everything is lost, one family member may appear relieved that no one was hurt when another family member may become very anxious and appear to be very rattled and full of fear. Accept how you feel and also allow others to feel how they are feeling. Self-care during an emergency will help your long-term healing so look out for these common signs of distress:
*Feelings of shock, numbness and disbelief
*Changes in energy/activity levels
*Changes in appetite
*Sleeping problems/nightmares and upsetting thoughts/images
*Feelings of anxiety and/or fear
*Physical reactions, such as headaches, body pains, stomach problems, and skin rashes
*Changes in use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs
*Anger or short-temper
Please seek professional help if you experience these feelings/behaviors for several days in a row and are unable to carry out your normal daily responsibilities.
Consider implementing one or more of the following suggestions to deal with an emergency or disaster:
*Stay informed – Seek reliable information about the situation; when you feel you are missing information about the situation, you may become more stressed or anxious.
*Take care of your body – Eat healthy meals, exercise on a regular basis, get plenty of sleep and avoid drugs/alcohol.
*Take breaks – Step away from the situation, distract yourself and unwind.
*Connect with others – Talk with a close friend or family member about how you are feeling and you will more than likely find out that you are not alone in your feelings.
*Seek help when needed – If you find that the stress/anxiety over the emergency event is affecting your daily life for several days/weeks, seek professional help and/or contact the SAMHSA helpline at 1-800-985-5990.
And for more information on how to help children cope with emergencies, visit www.emergency.cdc.gov.