How To Deal With Mental Health Issues After A Disaster

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Mark and I took a C.E.R.T. class several years ago that talked about how to deal with mental health issues after a disaster. Now keep in mind, we are not doctors or involved in any medical field. The initials CERT stand for Community Emergency Respond Team, in other words, first responders in our neighborhood after a disaster. I’m sure you can imagine what chaos may happen if and when we have a disaster. When we do have an unforeseen emergency most medical personnel will more than likely be called to the hospital or medical clinics. They may be called to go to local schools to care for those that are hurt depending on how bad the disaster may be. Here’s the deal, we had the most wonderful doctor come and tell us a few tidbits on how to deal with minor mental health issues. I can still picture the woman standing there and talking us through some statements that can help or traumatize people even more. I have outlined the topics we discussed below with her direction.


We need to be prepared for those people who live by us with mental health issues who are dependent on their medications. If the pharmacies are closed or the roads are shut down, where can we direct them to get help, if help is even available? If you have monthly emergency preparedness neighborhood meetings please suggest that all families think about any medications they are on to see if they can get extra inventory by paying cash for the prescriptions. I realize diabetes is a big issue as well, but today I’m only talking about mental health issues. Some medications doctors will not give 90 days worth, I understand that, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. I realize some insurance companies will not pay for 90 days, but it’s still worth checking on now before we really need those medications. Yes, drugs are expensive, but peace of mind is everything to me.

I have a few friends that pay cash for medications a year upfront so they know for sure they will have the medications throughout the year because they would die without them. It’s surprising how much cheaper prescriptions are if you pay cash over using your insurance. But don’t get me started on that soapbox. Please educate yourself, check around and see what the cash price is, you may be very surprised how much cheaper they may be compared to using your insurance plan. Of course, you have to get your doctor to agree to prescribe 90 days, 120 days or 12 months worth.

Mental Health Issues

Our CERT team or designated team members:

  • Get enough sleep
  • Eat a well-balanced diet
  • Balance work, play, and then rest
  • Be ready to receive help as well as give help
  • Connect with the people in your neighborhood
  • Use spiritual resources

We need to use the tools above to help others control their stress levels.

Seven phases after a disaster:

  • Introductions and descriptions, we need to show confidence when we talk to the people we are around after a disaster.
  • Review with the group the factual material about the incident that has occurred.
  • Share your initial thoughts/feelings about the incident.
  • Share your emotional reactions to the incident.
  • Review of the symptoms of stress experienced by the participants.
  • Instructions about normal stress reactions.
  • Closing and further needs assessment.

Provide support by:

  • Listening to the people in your neighborhood about their feelings and their physical needs. Victims often need to talk about what they have been through and they want someone to listen to them. Please don’t just brush them off.
  • Empathizing, show by your responses that you hear their concerns. Victims want to know that someone else shares their feelings of pain and grief.
  • Help family members connect to natural support systems, such as family, friends, and clergy.

Avoid these phrases:

  • “I understand”: we cannot understand unless we have had the same experience.
  • “Don’t feel bad”: The survivor has the right to feel bad and will need time to feel differently.
  • “You’re strong/You’ll get through this:” many survivors do not feel strong and question if they will ever recover from the loss.
  • “Don’t cry”: It’s okay to cry.
  • “It’s God’s will”: giving religious meaning to an event to a person you do not know may anger or insult the person.
  • “It could be worse” or “At least you still have….”: It’s up to the individual to decide whether things could be worse.

Survivors that need more help:

  • If survivors show evidence of being suicidal, psychotic, or unable to care for themselves, they should be referred to mental health professionals for support. (This will be infrequent in most groups of survivors.)

After taking this CERT class, it really made me aware of statements that are okay and not okay to say to people after a traumatic time in my friends’ lives. May God bless those who need to take charge in your neighborhood before the medical, fire department or emergency personnel shows up to take the lead.

My favorite things:

21st Century FEMA Course Manuals – Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Instructor Guide (IG-317), Disaster Preparedness, Fire Safety, Disaster Operations, Psychology, Terrorism (Ringbound)

Goal Zero Lighthouse 400 Lantern and USB Power Hub

Community Emergency Response Team

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6 thoughts on “How To Deal With Mental Health Issues After A Disaster

  • June 1, 2017 at 8:05 pm

    Great article, Linda. 🙂

  • June 1, 2017 at 11:06 pm

    Yeah, the real post SHTF prognosis is the same for any with chronic medical conditions, that is death. Insulin dependent diabetics, dead. Chronic hypertension, death. Crazy without your meds, death. It will be just like the 1800’s. Thinking 90 or 120 days worth of medications will do anything for you other than add 90 or 120 days to your life is unrealistic. Sure people with chronic, medication treated conditions will last longer than a few months is possible but the end will come without the medications they depend on.

    • June 2, 2017 at 1:51 pm

      Hi, Freeheel, this is how I see it, it’s 90 or 120 days of sanity that may help us ALL realize that medications will not be refillable. It would at least help us try to deal with what will happen after the SHTF. None of us can be prepared for what is most likely to happen. So many people are unprepared this is just a small token to get others prepared…..Linda

  • March 15, 2018 at 11:56 am

    One thing people should consider for a long term situation is to look for herbal substitution’s to their medication for if you are unable to prep or refill your medications as their is literally hundreds of herbs that treat all sorts of conditions including mental illness and diabetes so don’t count them out on survival as they are not dead yet and you’ll be surprised by what a sick person can do when they have to.

    • March 15, 2018 at 12:42 pm

      Hi Nick, you are so right that people need to be prepared with natural herbs when the pharmacies shut down and they will. Great comment, Linda


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