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Mental Health Clean-Up Following a Natural Disaster

“The sole meaning of life is to serve humanity.” ~ Leo Tolstoy

As I sit on my patio, warmed by the early autumn sun, I breath in the alchemy of rosemary, thyme and oregano and a variety of mints- aromas from my herb garden. The squirrels chatter as they scamper across the trapeze-like branches of the old maple and majestic oaks that provide me with shade and entertainment for a variety of creatures. Blue Jays, robins and cardinals flit back and forth, foraging end of the season strawberries. Finches hoover overhead just long enough to steal a sunflower seed (or two) from the heads of these long stalks that have faded and now hang low. It is a beautiful September morning.

Yet, just a few hours away, nature has taken a different turn and spun up water and winds of 185 mph, decimating lands and destroying lives. The Caribbean lay pulverized with debris of paradise strewn about, and the Atlantic US coastline prepares for the wrath of yet another hurricane. Harvey, Irma, Jose creating havoc on the East Coast, while fires enflame the West. Homes lost, families separated, havoc wreaked by the same Mother Nature that offers me such solace on this early morn.

As with any traumatic experience, I seek out meaning…attempting to make some sense out of these tragedies. I try to identify who is to blame for such suffering and loss. Finding none, or very little peace from my efforts, I turn to what I know best… I dive into my counseling toolbox for guidance and I DO something.

1. Volunteer

There are so many ways to assist in disaster relief and volunteers for deployment are desperately needed. As a mental health professional, I have listened to the narratives of survivors, validated their experiences, and provided tools for immediate coping. We all can provide basic care and help survivors reconnect with loved ones. I have been a Mental Health Disaster Volunteer for the American Red Cross for decades. It is a privilege to serve in local and national deployments. Additionally, we can assist local efforts through church or club affiliations. I am a member of Maryland Responds Medical Corp and I support the efforts of my faith affiliation.

2. Contribute to Resource Efforts

There have been many times when I have been unable to deploy. This is extremely frustrating as part of my healing is feeling as if I have DONE something to help. I have found that there are numerous organizations that accept both supplies, as well as monetary contributions. Participating in these efforts allows me to feel that I have been actively involved in the aid toward recovery.

3. Gather with Like Minded/Hearted People

Being in the company of other compassionate advocates can lighten the load. Sharing the emotional burden may not only provide ease, it may promote collaboration and generation of innovative recovery strategies. For example, a group may want to craft a Go Fund webpage, or create a local fund-raiser, or organize an event in memory of those lost and in honor of the survivors.

4. Pray or Hold Intention

Regardless of one’s foundation of faith or belief system, lifting prayer and good intentions on behalf of another is an active service of compassion and kindness. It is (excuse my double negative grammatical statement) “not nothing”.In addition to a faith-based perspective, prayer and intention place the person or people in the forefront of our thoughts, reminding us of our connection with all humanity regardless of nation, culture, ethnicity, creed, age, gender, sexual identification, and able-bodiedness.

5. Seek Help

As advocates and first responders, we are not immune to the effects of tragedies. Viewing hours of social media in anticipation of the arrival of the storm, or watching the desperate efforts of the firefighters barely dousing the flaming forests of Washington and Oregon, or the pummeled streets of Puerto Rico takes its toll on even the most resilient counselor. Seek out professional help to aid in the development of strategies to provide nourishment and sustenance while buffering the abrasive nature of responding to traumatic events.


Nature provides us with endless sources of joy, wisdom and companionship. However, as with any living force, there are times when disaster strikes. We all can contribute to the recovery plan in numerous ways that cultivate a sense of unity and community. It is a privilege to serve in times of need.

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