Disaster Mental Health Supports Red Cross Workers Too

Imagine that you’ve just returned home after being deployed to the American Red Cross Hurricane Sandy disaster relief operation. You worked twelve-hour days for three weeks helping Sandy survivors rebuild their lives. You’re a Red Cross disaster relief worker–most likely you’re a volunteer. You’re exhausted. You’ve seen a lot. Your experiences range from the devastating to the inspiring. You could use a little emotional support, but you’re not sure how or who to ask for it.

Sandi Lindgren was deployed to the American Red Cross tornado disaster relief operation in Joplin, Missouri, May 2011. Photo provided courtesy of Sandi.

The next thing you know, you receive a call from a Red Cross Disaster Mental Health volunteer who’s checking in to see how you’re doing and to assist you in dealing with stress and high impact experiences. The volunteer listens to you, offers support and lets you know that you’re not alone. Sandi Lindgren could be the person who calls.

“Disaster deployments are a special kind of response that I believe calls for increased attention,” Sandi says. “When you return home friends and family usually want to know some of what you’ve experienced, but often they don’t want to know as much as you want to tell.  It’s not because they don’t care – it’s because they don’t understand, and they themselves have had life continue while you were away.  Sometimes it can be helpful to process some of these experiences in a post deployment call, to get support, ideas and sometimes just have someone to listen.”

Sandi–who also deploys to disaster relief operations away from home–most often serves the Red Cross in Minnesota as part of a team of trained and licensed mental health volunteers. Together, the team has made more than one hundred post-deployment calls to Hurricane Sandy relief workers from Minnesota.

Sandi Lindgren gives–and gets–a hug during the tornado disaster relief operation in Joplin, Missouri, May 2011. Photo provided courtesy of Sandi.

Though it’s a service many people aren’t aware of, this kind of outreach can make a world of difference to those it supports. For example, one volunteer says that the the Disaster Mental Health volunteer who contacted her after her return from Hurricane Sandy “went way beyond what I could ever have expected a volunteer to do in the amount of time she devoted to [my post-deployment needs] and the caring for me and the Red Cross.”

Disaster Mental Health responders worry about the negative stigma sometimes associated with mental health and want volunteers to know that talking with someone is a normal and  healthy way to process a deployment experience. Sandi explains that “The Disaster Mental Health Team and its volunteers don’t approach you and talk to you because we secretly think you’re crazy and in need of an intervention! Sometimes, we just want to chat, or meet new people, or find out what’s going on. I like to remind people that we’re the mental HEALTH team…it’s all about how to be your best, so that you can then support others in the most effective manner.”

Thank you to all of the Disaster Mental Health team volunteers for your compassionate support of our regional volunteers. Your work is truly appreciated.

Story by Lisa Joyslin, Volunteer Resources Director, American Red Cross Northern Minnesota Region. Click here to learn more about Red Cross opportunities.

4 Replies to “Disaster Mental Health Supports Red Cross Workers Too”

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