During Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, Red Cross reminds public of available mental health resources

By: Chris Chmura, Red Cross volunteer

As with mental health, our society has been improving with the taboo subject of suicide, but we still have a long way to go to help more people. The American Red Cross wants to remind everyone that there are resources available to assist those struggling with mental health concerns.

A sweeping new examination of suicide in Ohio in the past decade finds that 37 of the 88 counties now surpass the national rate, and the coronavirus pandemic likely is triggering a “staggering” increase in such deaths. Our Ohio neighbors of all ages from children to aging veterans are affected by suicide.

https://www.cincinnati.com/story/news/2020/07/06/suicide-ohio-death-gender-sex-race-county-ohio-university-mental-health/5364576002/

The Red Cross is committed to assisting the physical needs of those affected by disaster but we also understand these events can take an emotional toll.  The Red Cross has licensed Disaster Mental Health professionals who volunteer to assist people after disasters and connect them with resources to help in their long-term recovery. We currently have an urgent need for mental health disaster volunteers. If you are an RN, LPN, LVN, APRN, NP, EMT, paramedic, MD/DO or PA with a current and unencumbered license, please consider volunteering. Learn more and sign up today.

Aiding our men and women in uniform has always been integral to the Red Cross mission. One way we assist with the emotional issues military members face is through Reconnection Workshops. This free, confidential Red Cross program offers effective ways to work through challenges, improve wellbeing and build skills through small-group discussion and hands-on activities. Workshops help improve connections at home, at work and within communities. Members of the military, veterans and their families can also download the Hero Care App which can connect you to important resources that can help you through both emergency and nonemergency situations.

For emergency mental health care, you can also go directly to your local VA medical center 24/7, regardless of your discharge status or enrollment in other VA health care. The VA also has local Vet Centers in your community to help discuss how you feel with other veterans in these community-based counseling centers — some 70% of Vet Center staff are veterans. Call 1-877-927-8387 or find one near you.

If you are in crisis, get immediate help. Call 911. For additional help and resources, below are a variety of organizations trained to help.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a major effect on our lives. Many of us are facing challenges that can be stressful, overwhelming and cause strong emotions. It’s important to learn how you and your loved ones can cope with stress. The information below has been adapted from resources published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Healthy Ways to Cope with Stress

  • Take breaks from watching, reading or listening to news stories, including those on social media. Consider limiting news to just a couple times a day and disconnecting from phone, television and computer screens for a while.
  • Take care of your body.
    • Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate.
    • Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals.
    • Exercise regularly.
    • Get plenty of sleep.
    • Avoid excessive alcohol, tobacco and substance use.
    • Continue with routine preventive measures (such as vaccinations, cancer screenings, etc.) as recommended by your healthcare provider.
  • Make time to unwind. Try to do some other activities you enjoy.
  • Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.
  • Connect with your community or faith-based organizations. While social distancing measures are in place, try connecting online, through social media, or by phone or mail.

Disaster mental health volunteer helps people cope and heal after devastating losses

By Jason Copsey, American Red Cross volunteer

October 10, 2019- After Hurricanes Irma and Maria struck the U.S. Virgin Islands in September 2017, the American Red Cross deployed volunteers to help provide food, clothing and shelter for impacted residents. Alongside these basic needs, the Red Cross deployed specialized volunteers trained to help individuals navigate the difficult emotional and psychological aftermath of a traumatic experience.

Adrienne Ford was one of the disaster mental health volunteers deployed to the Virgin Islands. Ford, a retired teacher and school counselor, joined the Red Cross as a volunteer in 2014 after learning about disaster mental health at a conference for school counselors. As an independently licensed counselor, Ford saw in the Red Cross an opportunity to continue practicing while serving those in need.

California Wildfires 2018

“The first time the Red Cross called on me to provide services was in response to the California wildfires in 2014,” said Ford. “There was a massive shelter set up at the Napa Valley fairgrounds. So many people had run for their lives with nothing but the clothes on their backs.”

Disaster mental health volunteers tend to the emotional trauma people experience after a disaster. They play a critical role in the delivery of the Red Cross mission by providing support, comfort and hope to people impacted by incidents of all sizes, from home fires to natural disasters.

California Wildfires 2017

“Ultimately, people want to tell their stories to begin the healing process,” said Ford. “As mental health workers, we know how to ask the right questions for people to begin telling the story of what they have been through. The anxiety that comes from living through a near- death experience is considerable and depression can often follow.”

During her Virgin Islands deployment, Ford encountered families that were continuing to live in severely damaged homes instead of shelters. Working as part of medical teams consisting of a nurse, mental health advocate and a case worker, Ford would visit families and monitor for risk factors.

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“There was one family we had seen a few times and were continuing to check on,” said Ford. “I had talked with the mother several times about her experience. Half of her house had collapsed during the storm. Her son, a teenager, had been trapped in part of the house, and for a period of time she feared the worst.”

While Ford was able to connect with the mother, the son was less forthcoming. Over time, Ford was able to build trust with the child.

Texas Floods 2019

“We talked about sports and things he was interested in,” says Ford. “Little by little, he let me ask him questions about his experience. He started telling me about what it was like for him to have been alone and the fear he had experienced.”

As first responders, Red Cross volunteers are often the connection between individuals and community resources and local agencies. Mental health volunteers are critical in this role, as trauma can easily trigger harmful tendencies for those without adequate coping skills. The early intervention of a Red Cross mental health volunteer can be a key factor in the recovery process.

Oroville Dam Spillway Compromised 2017

Ford said that over her five years as a Red Cross volunteer, it is the firsthand experience of individuals helping one another that has been most rewarding.

“The way communities respond to disasters renews your faith in humanity,” said Ford. “People really do take care of each other.”

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer

Volunteers provide disaster relief for hidden concerns

By: Eric Alves, Regional Communications Specialist, American Red Cross of Northeast Ohio

The American Red Cross continues to assist residents affected by hurricanes in the Southeast.  Among the disaster relief workers who are playing a role are mental health volunteers.

Red Cross mental health volunteers are a treasured group of individuals. They are all licensed independent health practitioners: psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors, social workers and psychiatric registered nurses.

California Wildfires 2018

In addition to being licensed professionally, mental health volunteers must take specialized Red Cross training in disaster mental health which, for the most part, is far different than what they do in their daily full-time jobs. The specialized training is based on many years of experience in disaster relief, from those who have lost precious mementos in a home fire to the victims of 9/11 and everyone in between.

Red Cross mental health volunteers provide immediate crisis management. They instruct clients in becoming more resilient and help them cope with the various emotions they may experience following their loss. While mental health volunteers do not do long-term counseling, if they determine a client would benefit from long-term intervention, they will make a referral to a proper mental health specialist. They will not refer the client to themselves or to any other member of the team.

California Wildfires 2017

“Many victims and survivors do not recognize the need for intervention or do not want to be judged or labeled if they are struggling with recovery,” said Renee Palagyi, senior program manager of disaster cycle services for the American Red Cross of Northeast Ohio. “Our disaster mental health volunteers can help them to recognize the normal and destigmatize the need for counseling.”

Northeast Ohio is particularly fortunate to have some of the finest and most experienced mental health volunteers. They never fail to step up as needed even though the majority have full-time positions or time-consuming private practices.

Edgardo Padin, a mental health volunteer from Northeast Ohio, deployed to assist in the 2018 California wildfires. Recently, he discussed his experience assisting individuals who lost their homes with their mental health needs.

Tennessee Wildfires 2016

While it is easy to see the physical damage that a home fire or a hurricane can cause, it is not often as easy to see the internal effects a disaster can have on an individual. On World Mental Health Day, it is important to recognize the disaster mental health volunteers who assist with disaster relief efforts to ensure everyone’s needs are met.

For more information on the Red Cross’ disaster mental health services or to become a volunteer, visit redcross.org/volunteer.

Why I Volunteer: Disaster Mental Health

By: Christine, a Red Cross Volunteer in Boston (but calls NEO her hometown)

A colleague of mine, another therapist, always talks to clients about “shipwreck experiences”: those moments of tragedy where we are pushed to our limits, but learn something about ourselves and are moved to grow. That’s more than a feel-good saying or a pop-psychology mantra. In fact, it is at the core of the theory of post-traumatic growth, a counterpart to the idea of post-traumatic stress, and something that’s been found to happen more commonly than previously believed.

But how do people grow when everything around them seems to be lost? There are many pieces to that puzzle, but one of them is the support of the community. It is that support, which the Red Cross gives, and that Disaster Relief volunteers are trained to provide. These are the community responders you see on the news during times of tragedy. Perhaps they are setting up cots in gymnasiums, or preparing meals out of a truck. They are also the ones at the home fire in the middle of the night, handing out blankets and water.

My own background is in providing mental health services, and as a psychologist I work every day with people who have experienced loss – but usually months and years after the fact. When I was in grad school a professor of mine spoke to our class about the Red Cross’ Disaster Mental Health (DMH) services. This was in the years immediately following 9/11, and there were many stories about psychologists, social workers, and mental health counselors who had worked Ground Zero.

A key point, he said, was that we would unfortunately have to wait to volunteer till we were licensed and could practice independently. So, I finished my clinical training, graduated, did more coursework and training to get licensed, and in the process sort of forgot about it all.

On April 15, 2013, I was getting home just after 3 p.m. from volunteering at Mile 13 of the Boston Marathon. I didn’t understand the words I was reading when a friend texted asking me about explosions. Throughout the next hour I had people, having seen my excited posts about heading off to volunteer and my close-up shots of the course, trying to text and Facebook me about where I was and if I was ok. I, myself, was trying to keep my cool as I texted the family of friends who were supposed to be crossing the finish line. I am still grateful that all of my friends and their families were safe, but it was a long, few hours. A mini-shipwreck experience, if you will.

The next day I looked into the Red Cross DMH training. Things were chaotic, and I didn’t hear back from the coordinator. It got set aside as I dealt with people already in my practice that had been affected by the bombing. But this time I didn’t forget, and finally I made the time to apply this summer.

When I was ready, the process was actually quite easy – go through your local Red Cross website, you can walk through the process of signing up. My trainings were mostly online, and volunteer coordinators helped me along the way. I’ll actually do my last training soon, and then I’ll start attending update meetings as the year goes on. I’ll be able to give my schedule of when I can volunteer for common incidents (like house fires) and be on call for larger incidents.

Through the trainings I learned more about the Red Cross and its mission, the role of Disaster Relief, and the specifics of being a DMH volunteer. The coolest thing I learned? That there are people, mostly retirees, that are called DOVEs (Disaster Operations Volunteer Escapees) who travel the US in RVs, and wait to be called upon to travel to disaster sites. My husband is not yet aware that I am going to push for this in our retirement. Please don’t ruin the surprise!

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A photo of the author from her “grown-up” job.