Mental Health Services Offered to Disaster Victims

Kim Kroh

Kim Kroh, Executive Director, Stark and Muskingum Lakes Chapter 

Did you know that the Red Cross offers mental health services to those who suffer from disasters? In the last seven weeks, Red Cross volunteers have provided more than 180,000 mental health and health services to support and care for those affected by hurricanes this season.

World Mental Health Day is observed on October 10th every year.  Kim Kroh, a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor and Executive Director of the Stark and Muskingum Lakes Chapter, has worked with trauma victims for two decades.  She offers this observation:

Disasters in general can be very traumatizing for the individuals involved. They may lose everything they own and possibly even the life of a family member. Trauma processing can take place with the support of family and friends but often it requires professional intervention, especially to avoid long lasting mental health difficulties resulting from unprocessed trauma.

Shootings and other acts of violence will cause trauma and often Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) for the individuals involved in the violent act. In these situations, encouraging survivors to seek counseling would be most beneficial.

Licensed mental health professionals are among the volunteers who respond to disasters, from hurricanes to home fires.  For more information about volunteering for the Red Cross, visit our website at redcross.org/neo.

So Much Has Happened…

reneeBy: Renee Palagyi, Senior Program Manager for Disaster Cycle Services in NEO (pictured on the left)

So much has happened since yesterday afternoon.

Yesterday, we were notified of the need for leadership staff to deploy to the tragedy in Las Vegas.

Since I have background in mass casualty, and am a registered nurse, I said that I would go to Las Vegas, if needed.

I called my husband to say, “what do you think?” As usual, he was more than supportive of what my feelings were regarding where I could be most useful.

Then the waiting began.

My first experience in mass casualty was without much training and it was difficult, in more ways than I thought possible. Red Cross has come a long way in how we provide care, not only for the clients but for our own workforce, in these large-scale tragedies. I kept looking over my training, making sure that I was ready for what could, potentially, lay ahead.

It was hard to get to sleep last night with so many thoughts moving through my mind. First, and foremost, was the horrific loss of life in Las Vegas. I know, from past work, that even two deaths can be a challenge to work through. I thought of the many people who knew and loved the more than 50 people who had died. I am always concerned if I am “up to the task,” but in these circumstances, being adept is critical. I wondered if I could be supportive and compassionate while not getting personally involved. I wondered if I had the right volunteers in place, here at home, to cover the work I already do each day and the special things on my schedule. I wondered if people would be upset that I was leaving while they were staying behind. I wondered if I would sleep at night (since I don’t sleep well when I’m away)…lots and lots of thoughts!

I think I looked at the clock every hour…………and I still hadn’t been assigned to the job!

This morning I got the email I had hoped for around 7 a.m. As part of the checks and balances process of deploying with the Red Cross, you are not confirmed to the assignment until you have been cleared by a disaster mental health specialist (DMH). Each operation is given hardship codes – special codes that help us determine what potential physical or mental hazards exist on the ground and what volunteers could experience. For this operation, one code is “extreme emotional experience”. So I had to face questions such as:  have you experienced a recent death of a close friend or family member? Have you ever worked in a situation of this type? What type of support system do you have?

Once I spoke with the DMH screener, I made my airline reservation. I called my husband to tell him the time of my flight tomorrow and we planned to have a great dinner tonight. I sent a note to my four adult children so they can start asking questions for which I have no answers.

I doubt that I will sleep again tonight.

My flight is at 9:45a.m., and I will be in Las Vegas at 11:15 a.m.

Prayers and thoughts are appreciated for those on the ground, and for all who will do this work.

 

Restoring Courage and Hope

Psychologist Volunteers to Help People During Their Darkest Hours

Kriss Wyant

By EILENE E. GUY
American Red Cross volunteer

CLEVELAND – “Volunteering with the American Red Cross in general, and for me in particular, represents a profound privilege.  It doesn’t take long to realize how close we all are to needing help,” says Kriss Wiant.

A psychologist by profession and a humanitarian by nature, Kriss finds valuable perspective and rich reward as a disaster mental health volunteer.

With more than 20 years of experience helping children, adults and families in conventional clinical settings, Kriss was looking for what he calls “innovative applications of psychology.” A chance encounter with a Red Cross Disaster Action Team member led him to join that group, responding to home fires, floods or tornadoes across the Greater Cleveland area.

“Connecting people with primary resources – food, shelter, essential medications – that goes a long way to helping people in their time of acute need,” he says.

Eventually, Kriss – who makes his home in Brecksville – decided to make himself available for deployment to larger-scale disasters beyond the Buckeye State.  Of the nine major relief operations he has traveled to, most have been related to tornadoes or hurricanes. Although working conditions can be challenging and stress levels high, Wiant knows how to make a difference.

“The unifying need among those traumatized by a disaster is the loss of courage, the loss of hope,” he says in the gentle, knowing tone of someone who understands trauma as both a doctor of psychology and a first-hand observer. “So what we do is restore courage, restore hope. Most of us can do that, even just by our presence.”

Kriss believes that even the untrained individual can offer psychological first aid. “You are standing on the shore for someone in the deep,” he says. “The only question is, how far can you wade in to reach that person.”

In the wake of a tragedy as dramatic as the May 2013 tornado that killed 24 people – including nine children – and caused an estimated $2 billion in property damage in Moore, Okla., Kriss was part of a large Red Cross mental health outreach to families of those who lost their lives or were seriously injured.

Some people, he found, had the emotional stamina to surround themselves with family, friends and faith; others he pointed toward local resources for longer-term professional support.

At the same time, he watches for signs of stress among the Red Cross responders who work long hours and interact with clients in often-devastating situations. He encourages workers to talk, to share their experiences. “That can be very therapeutic ,” he says.

Kriss is one of some 300 Red Cross disaster volunteers across the 22 counties of Northeast Ohio. Most respond to local disasters or participate in prevention activities such as Operation Save-a-Life, installing thousands of smoke alarms. Those with the time, training and experience can volunteer to respond farther from home.

In addition to his work helping people affected by disasters, Kriss provides Service to the Armed Forces.  In fact, he is one of 5 recipients of the Vega Award, given annually to individuals or groups that have performed outstanding service in a department/line of service for the Greater Cleveland Chapter.  Kriss was honored for his on-going support to the military community,  helping to develop Reconnection Workshop-type materials that have been used in two pilot projects with the Troop and Family Assistance Center, as well as with the Ohio Army National Guard Recruit Sustainment Program. The workshops aim to provide coping and reunification skills to family members of National Guard recruits who are preparing to leave for basic training or Advanced Individualized Training, as well as educate families on a board range of services within the military community and via the Red Cross.  In addition, Kriss makes follow up calls to those who have utilized the Red Cross Emergency Communication services, completes home visits to local veterans, and is a Reconnection Workshop Facilitator.

Other Vega Award winners, honored on Saturday, September 17, are Rita Szymczak, Mark Cline, Rhoda Seifert, and SAF Reconnetion Workshop Facilitators Tom Adams, Lynne Wiseman, Jackie Otte, and Kathy Parsons.

Visit the Greater Cleveland Chapter Facebook Page to see a photo gallery from the Volunteer Recognition Event.

To learn more about the wide variety of volunteer opportunities with the Red Cross – including Service to the Armed Forces, health and safety education, and blood services – visit www.redcross.org/neo and click on “volunteer.”