'It's OK to hurt. This was big.' Therapist offers mental health advice in storm aftermath

2 years ago

As of Monday afternoon, Gov. Andy Beshear confirmed that 74 people from multiple counties were dead following what state leaders say was the worst tornado event in Kentucky history earlier this weekend.

There continues to be significant damage, with around 1,000 homes affected, and the search continues to find missing residents or identify those who have died.

David Houvenagle, a licensed clinical social worker and lead adult mental health therapist at University of Louisville's Peace Hospital, said there can be both immediate and long-term trauma from disasters such as this, and offered advice for navigating the aftermath.

\”I think the reality is-we've had that phrase over the last couple of years that 'it's OK not to be OK.'\” he said. \”I'd like to say 'it's OK to hurt. This was big.'\”

Houvenagle said the foremost and short-term phase of handling a situation like this could be paralysis, shock and numbness, particularly with significant loss. He explained these are normal reactions, and that in the long run, people who have been through a tragedy may become more guarded, irritable or angry.

Talking with other people and being productive might help a person stay busy and supply a needed distraction in the rawness from the situation.

\”I think right now the advisable thing is to be connected, keep in touch, talk to people,\” he explained. \”If you are feeling motivated to help, go and help.

\”I think this kind of situation does produce in us some form of anxiety. Anxiety stimulates our adrenaline, adrenaline causes us to be want to move and we should move.\”

He said if a person is not able to escape and help but continues to be feeling anxious, they might consider limiting the amount of media they're consuming. That can help minimize feeling overwhelmed by the daily reminders of what is unfolding.

If you're using a crisis right now, Houvenagle recommends reaching to the local mental health agencies or crisis hotlines. A clergy member or other trusted person will also help.

If the emotions manifest into post traumatic stress signs of which aren't seen until maybe six months later – Houvenagle said this is when getting a support group and seeking specialist can be a good idea.

\”Your coping skills at this time likely have to be distraction skills,\” he said. \”They have to be you helping, you being busy, you doing stuff that get the mind a spot in a healthy zone. Be busy in your head, be busy inside your activity, stuff that are healthy and productive.\”

Children might be especially vulnerable to the results of the disaster, based on the National Child Traumatic Stress Network. Indications of distress in youngsters 6 to 11 include withdrawing from peers, competing for attention with caregivers, difficulty concentrating, unwillingness to depart home and aggression.

Teens 12 to 18 may have physical pains in reaction to stress and also become withdrawn, aggressive, resisting authority or begin tinkering with alcohol or drugs.

To speak with a counselor to assist with 24/7 emotional support, call the Drug abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990.

If you or somebody is considering harming themselves, call the suicide prevention 24-hour helpline at 1-800-273-8255.

A running list of the way to help those impacted by the tornadoes are available at wfpl.org.



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