By Daniel Francis, CEO of D911 Inc.
As a veteran disaster responder, I know the mental impact of the work we provide. Not to diminish the emotional toll a disaster takes on those that live there, just recognizing responders too have a price to pay for the work they do. So, what can we do after a disaster to help with the mental impacts?
One action we can take is to provide a safe space for individuals to process their experiences. Many people who have helped after a disaster may feel overwhelmed, anxious, or traumatized by what they have seen and experienced. Providing a safe space for individuals to talk about their feelings and experiences can help them to process and make sense of what they have been through.
We can also encourage self-care. When helping after a disaster, individuals may neglect their own needs in order to prioritize the needs of others. Encouraging self-care activities such as exercise, relaxation techniques, and getting adequate rest can help individuals to manage stress and maintain their emotional well-being.
I have frequently been torn between leaving and staying to help. So, helping individuals set boundaries. Individuals who have helped after a disaster may feel a sense of responsibility to continue helping indefinitely. Helping individuals set boundaries and prioritize their own needs can help them to avoid burnout and maintain their mental health. Typically, this is just reminding myself and others that people at home, my family, my job, and my community, want me to come back. It is time to return to them.
When I get home, I may not be able to cope with the images, smells, and sounds that live in my thoughts. It is important to normalize common reactions to trauma. Many people who have helped after a disaster may experience symptoms such as nightmares, flashbacks, and anxiety. Helping individuals to understand that these reactions are normal responses to trauma can help to reduce feelings of shame or guilt.
One more thing we can do is provide resources for ongoing support. While immediate crisis intervention can be helpful, individuals who have helped after a disaster may benefit from ongoing support and therapy. Providing resources for ongoing support can help individuals to manage the long-term impact of their experiences.
The D911 Disaster Response Mobile App has connected mental health care providers that will be able to address many of the common emotional disruptions that may occur after a disaster responder returns home.
Overall, it's important to recognize that helping after a disaster can have a significant impact on an individual's mental health. By providing a safe space for individuals to process their experiences, encouraging self-care, helping individuals to set boundaries, normalizing common reactions to trauma, and providing resources for ongoing support, counselors can play a crucial role in helping individuals to manage the mental impact of helping after a disaster.