By Rob Yin, Manager, Disaster Mental Health, American Red Cross
The mission of the Red Cross’ Disaster Mental Health (DMH) program is to respond to the psychosocial needs of people affected by disaster, including disaster responders, across the continuum of disaster preparedness, response and recovery. DMH’s work can be both challenging and stressful, but most DMH volunteers will tell you that it is extremely rewarding to provide mental health support to people in their time of greatest need.
DMH workers provide basic care, support and comfort to those experiencing disaster-related stress in addition to approved mental health interventions such as triage, crisis intervention, mental health surveillance, enhanced psychological first aid, secondary assessment, community resilience support, casualty support, advocacy, psychoeducation and referral services.*(Note: please see definitions at the end of this article).
The DMH program is built around a cadre of over 4,000 mental health professionals (with a master’s degree or higher) acting within the scope of their state, independent-level license. These services are designed to supplement, not replace, the community’s mental health services capacity.
There are important differences between day-to-day work as a mental health professional and the delivery of mental health services during a disaster:
If the information about DMH work above sounds interesting…that’s because it is! Become a Red Cross DMH volunteer and be part of the largest, most-highly credentialed DMH response force in the nation. For more information, contact your local Red Cross office (Colonial Virginia Chapter, Williamsburg, VA, 757-253-0228, www.redcross.org ) or contact the Red Cross’ Psychological First Aid Training and/or Foundations of Disaster Mental Health (DMH) Trainings by contacting our region’s Disaster Services Coordinator who serves the lower peninsula, Lisa Mike, at 757-323-4788 or email@example.com
*Mental Health Intervention Definitions
Individual Psychological Triage:
To identify high risk clients, to prioritize interventions, to make rapid referrals
Mental Health Surveillance for Incident Management:
To deploy to areas with higher ratios of high risk clients, focus on exposure in addition to symptoms, inform state and local mental health agencies of client needs, and monitor worker exposure
To offer immediate, short-term help to individuals who experience an event that produces emotional, mental, physical, and behavioral distress or problems.
Enhanced Psychological First Aid:
To provide basic care, comfort and support to people who are experiencing disaster-related stress
To recognize the signs of stress in clients, co-workers and themselves
to identify those who are actually demonstrating signs of psychological trauma and to make more informed crisis intervention treatment decisions
Community Resilience Support:
To know who your community is and being able to help and support each other in the face of a common crisis. Community resilience training includes the Neighbor to Neighbor “Coping in Today’s World” curriculum.
Offered during the immediate aftermath and recovery phase of a disaster when death and serious injuries have occurred
includes providing brochures and information regarding expected stress reactions.
Public health messaging and consultation:
DMH may be asked to work with public affairs to craft messaging that addresses the emotional implications of the disaster and may be called upon to
consult with community agencies and/or disaster responders regarding strategies to address the community’s psychological needs in order to promote resilience and positive coping.
Rob Yin directs the Disaster Mental Health (DMH) program at Red Cross National Headquarters and provides technical and programmatic oversight to more than 4,000 DMH volunteers. Since first joining the Red Cross as a volunteer in 2001, Yin has led DMH teams on 22 national disaster relief operations. Yin is the co-editor of the new Red Cross curriculum, “Coping in Today’s World: Psychological First Aid and Resilience for Families, Friends and Neighbors” and is the co-author of “Self Care for Disaster Mental Health Workers: Force Health Protection Strategies.” He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.