When Disaster Looms


As a Disaster Relief Mental Health Volunteer with the American Red Cross, and a Certified Community Emergency Response Team Member for Cobb County, my training has informed me that a mass disaster has far reaching effects into the broader community, city and even the nation. The effects are devastating and echo their violent rippling effects for decades and longer.

While the tragedies in Paris and San Bernandino have captured the attention of our nation, the recent tragedies of family violence and murder within our own community have rocked our neighborhoods and our families. And many are left asking, could something like this happen in my own family? Is there anything that I could do to better prevent or prepare for such a disaster?

Mental illness, unforeseen and untreated, can create a mass disaster within one’s own home where safety and security are assumed. Tragedies in our own community occur when family members threaten to harm themselves or another and are frightfully too many to number. When unchecked, mental illness and substance can increase the risk for violence as it would appear has recently occurred within our own community. Whether before, during or after such a disaster, homes can become an isolated fear-driven battleground where families are torn apart rather than strengthened. Too often, fear, grief, guilt, unrelenting anxiety and depression run unchecked in families desperately needing immediate psychological first aid, support and rallying of other family members to bring back hope and start the process of healing.

How can you know if a family member is undergoing an internal disaster?
First, let me say that if you believe that someone within your family is in trouble, you must be careful to care for your self first. Don’t go it alone. Then, education yourself on the early signs that trouble is brewing. Educate your family about the realities of mental illness and how it, like any other illness, needs treatment for recovery and healing. Then, remove the shame, fear, and stigma from your concerns. 1 in 4 people have undergone a mental illness (Mentalhealth.gov) andit is likely you know someone who is struggling even now.

Below are 14 early signs that a loved one may be undergoing a mental health struggle that requires intervention:(Mentalhealth.gov )
• Eating or sleeping too much or too little
• Pulling away from people and usual activities
• Having low or no energy
• Feeling numb or like nothing matters
• Having unexplained aches and pains
• Feeling helpless or hopeless
• Smoking, drinking, or using drugs more than usual
• Feeling unusually confused, forgetful, on edge, angry, upset, worried, or scared
• Yelling or fighting with family and friends
• Experiencing severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships
• Having persistent thoughts and memories you can’t get out of your head
• Hearing voices or believing things that are not true
• Thinking of harming yourself or others
• Inability to perform daily tasks like taking care of your kids or getting to work or school

Remember these 5 Tips to take care of yourself:

1. Assure your own emotional, physical and spiritual safety and security. Know your safe shelter.

2. Know your immediate life-sustaining needs and emotional resources and how to obtain them. Get your own treatment, guidance and spiritual support.

3. God designed us to live in “community”, not isolation. Be assured it is important to know how to ask for HELP

4. Have a psychological/emotional first aid kit on hand. This includes having caring and concerned others around who will listen with love and compassion. And who can refer you to the help you need to have your basic needs of support and safety being met. (Log on to www.redcross.org for more information.)

5. Be educated, prepared, and pull in your church and community for support.

Again, no one family or person can manage a global, national, local or family disaster alone. Recovery, rebuilding and restoration are often completely possible with the proper support and treatment. If you are concerned for someone’s immediate safety, be proactive, call 911, and/or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and have a safe shelter of your own.

For information about Tapestry’s services for individuals, couples and families, log on to www.tapestryassociates.com.

Dr. Russo conducts Families Recover Wellness Sessions to assist whole families dealing with the onset or aftermath of loved ones’ mental illness struggles. For more information, contact her at Deborah.Russo@tapestryassociates.com.

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