Red Cross mental health counselors on the scene of disasters

  • Friday, November 29, 2013

When a disaster strikes, the American Red Cross is on the scene providing food, drink, shelter and other things that are needed to help those who have been impacted.

The Red Cross workers providing for physical needs is a common sight. But there is a group of workers who are not as visible but their service is invaluable in helping people begin to recover.

They are the Red Cross workers who help people cope mentally with the crisis they are going through, said Nanci Conley,the agency’s Executive Director of the Cross Coastal South Carolina Chapter.

When fire destroyed a large portion of the 700 block of Front Street Sept. 25, the Red Cross spang into action. The team meeting physical needs was very visible.

“We had professional crisis counselors at the fire. They walked around and talked with the first responders, the residents, the business owners and others,” Conley said.

The counselors were there to assist anyone who was having difficulty coping with the tragedy.

“We were told by someone there was a resident who was just sitting in his car looking catatonic. A counselor talked to him and brought him around,” Conley said as an example. “The counselors dealt with a variety of emotional needs.”

And the counseling is ongoing, not just the day of a tragedy. That’s because the mental toll a devastating event, in many cases, does not hit for days, weeks and maybe even months later.

Conley said when the Windsor Green fire occurred in Carolina Forest, one of the fire’s victims thought she was OK but weeks later when she realized something that had belonged to her grandmother had been destroyed, she broke down. Red Cross counselors helped that woman.

Conley said Red Cross counselors follow up with those in need on a routine basis.

“It’s not just a situation where you go to an appointment and sit and talk. We follow up with phone calls making sure the people are OK,” Conley said.

She said the Red Cross provides short term counseling and if it is determined the person needs additional assistance more than 60 days after a tragedy, references are made for long-term assistance.

The mental health counselors are “behind the scenes, low key people,” Conley said. When they were on the scene of a plane crash in Conway earlier this year, most people did not know they were there, she added.

“We do a lot of listening,” she said. “We have five trained counselors in are area. We are always looking to recruit more.”

To become a licensed social worker, a person must undergo the Red Cross mental health training.

“We need volunteers desperately,” Conley said. The help is needed in all areas, not just with the mental health counseling.

Anyone who would like to become a Red Cross volunteer is invited to attend an orientation session that will take place at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 4 at the Red Cross headquarters on Screven Street in Georgetown.

“If we had more people trained, we could respond so much faster,” Conley said.

She said if a group of five or more would like to take the orientation class, she and her staff will hold the meeting where it is convenient for the group.

To schedule a session or to find out more, call the Red Cross at 477-0020.

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