University of Alabama Risk Communication & Disaster Management Paper: Health & Medical Answers 2021

University of Alabama Risk Communication & Disaster Management Paper: Health & Medical Answers 2021

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University of Alabama Risk Communication & Disaster Management Paper

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Tips for Disaster Responders:
Disaster responders make valuable
contributions to communities across the
nation. Whether you work on the front lines or
behind the scenes during a disaster response
assignment, you provide essential services
to those who need them. Disaster response
work is both stressful and rewarding, and it
provides a unique perspective for everyone
involved. The stress created by this experience
can sometimes cause adjustment difficulties
for disaster responders returning to work. This
tip sheet can help ease your transition back to
routine work.
Strengthening Stress Management Skills
While it is a good idea to take some time to
reorient yourself and get sufficient sleep after
a disaster assignment, some experts suggest
that responders first go back to work for a
day or two to get reacquainted with their
colleagues and responsibilities, and then take
some personal time off. This may help ease any
anxiety about possible unknowns awaiting you
at work. The flexibility and amount of personal
time varies by employer, so check the policies
of your workplace or consult with your human
resources representative for guidance.
Because work conditions in disaster response
are not ideal, you may have difficulty taking
proper care of yourself during this time. When
your disaster response assignment is over, it
is especially important to focus on addressing
your basic needs. For example, ensuring that
you are physically healthy can increase your
resilience and decrease the effects of trauma
exposure. To prevent and manage your stress,
practice the following self-care tips:
? Maintain a healthy diet, and get routine exercise
and adequate rest.
Spend time with family and friends.
Pay attention to health concerns.
Catch up on neglected personal tasks
(e.g., check mail, pay bills, mow the lawn,
shop for groceries).
Reflect upon what the experience has meant
personally and professionally, for both you and
your loved ones.
Make sure you and your loved ones have a
preparedness plan.
Toll-Free: 1-877-SAMHSA-7 (1-877-726-4727) | |
Expecting the Unexpected?Common
Difficulties and Tips for Coping With Them
When transitioning from your disaster
assignment to your routine duties, you may
notice changes in yourself, your coworkers,
or your work environment. A few potential
difficulties are described below, along with
some tips on how to overcome them.
Pace change. The disaster response
environment often moves at a pace much faster
than that of the normal workplace, and you may
find that you have grown accustomed to this
rapid pace. When returning to your routine work,
it may appear as though people are moving at
a much slower pace than you remember. It is
easy to misinterpret this behavior. Remember,
it is probably you who have changed, not your
colleagues. Try to refrain from judging,
criticizing, or making assumptions about your
colleagues? work pace.
Unrelenting fatigue. Sometimes excessive
stress results in never feeling rested. You often
experience extreme fatigue when you first return
from your assignment, even if you feel like you
are getting a sufficient amount of sleep. This may
be a result of several factors, such as the stress
hormones moving out of your body and allowing
you to relax, or your body trying to recover.
You may need more rest than you realize. If
extreme fatigue persists for more than 2 weeks,
consider seeing a physician. See the Helpful
Resources section of this tip sheet for more
information on finding support and services.
Cynicism. During disaster work you often see
the worst in individuals and systems, and it is
easy to become cynical. These feelings are
expected and usually diminish over time. Review
the successes and positive results from your
assignment, and try to focus on seeing the
best in individuals and systems. Over time,
this perspective will help you maintain a more
optimistic outlook.
Dissatisfaction with routine work. Saving
lives and protecting our fellow citizens? health
and safety can be rewarding and energizing,
and most work does not provide such dramatic
and immediate reinforcement. When you first
return to your regular job, you might feel as
though your daily work lacks the same level of
meaning and satisfaction. These feelings are
common among those who alternate between
high-stress environments, such as disaster
work, and more traditional professional settings.
To counter these feelings, incorporate the
positive things you have learned during disaster
response into your personal and professional
life. Recognize that everyone has a job to do
and that even the smallest effort contributes
to our well-being. Learn to appreciate your
routine work as well as everyone else?s.
Easily evoked emotions. Sometimes the
combination of intense experiences, fatigue,
and stress leaves you vulnerable to unexpected
emotions. For example, you may cry more easily
than before, be quick to anger, or experience
Toll-Free: 1-877-SAMHSA-7 (1-877-726-4727) | |
dramatic mood swings. These are fairly common
reactions among disaster responders that
typically subside over time. In the meantime,
be aware of your reactions; discuss your
experiences with trusted coworkers, friends,
and loved ones; and try to limit comments
that might be hurtful or upsetting to others.
Relating your experiences. While you may
want to share your experiences with others,
some information may be too difficult for others
to hear. Exercise care when discussing your
disaster response experiences and know
that it can be harmful to others to hear you
describe disturbing scenes. Make sure to
refrain from talking about the negative aspects
of the work while in the presence of children or
others who are emotionally vulnerable. Children
are also strongly affected by how their parents
cope with traumatic stress. The better you are
able to use positive coping skills and address
your experiences in a positive manner, the more
likely your family will do so as well.
Difficulties with colleagues and supervisors.
You may not experience a ?welcome back?
from your colleagues and supervisors that
meets your expectations. Your coworkers may
resent the additional workloads they had in your
absence or not understand the difficult nature
of the work you did. They also may resent
the recognition that you are receiving as a
responder. To cope with any negative feelings
you may have about your colleagues, try to
express appreciation for their support during
your assignment, and take care in relating
your experiences.
Cultural differences. Culture affects how an
individual reacts to intense experiences. Some
colleagues may want to celebrate you, others
may feel you need caretaking, and others may
decide that you need time on your own. Find
ways to express your needs so that you are
true to yourself but also sensitive to your
team members? efforts to be supportive.
When To Seek Help
Stress is an anticipated reaction to situations
like disasters and other traumatic events.
Sometimes it may be difficult to determine
whether your symptoms are a result of a
physical illness, stress, or a combination of the
two. You may need more support, however, if
you experience any of the symptoms below or
have other concerns that persist for more than
2 weeks:
? Disorientation (e.g., appearing dazed,
experiencing memory loss, being unable to
give the date or time or recall recent events)
Toll-Free: 1-877-SAMHSA-7 (1-877-726-4727) | |
? Depression (e.g., continuing sadness,
withdrawing from others)
Anxiety (e.g., feeling constantly on edge
or restless; having obsessive fear of
another disaster)
Acute psychiatric symptoms (e.g., hearing
voices, experiencing delusional thinking)
Inability to care for oneself (e.g., not eating,
bathing, or handling day-to-day life tasks)
Suicidal or homicidal thoughts or plans;
pervasive feelings of hopelessness or despair
Problematic use or misuse of alcohol,
prescription medication, or other drugs
Domestic violence, child abuse, or elder abuse
If you are experiencing consistent or severe
stress, there are several things you can do.
You can check to see if your employer provides
access to an Employee Assistance Program
(or ?EAP?). You may also choose to contact
your primary care physician who can help to
rule out a medical problem or provide a referral
to a licensed mental health professional. You
can also download SAMHSA?s new Disaster
Behavioral Health App and access resources
specific to the post-deployment phase,
including tips for re-entry (for responders,
supervisors, and family members). Additional
supports and services can be found in the
Helpful Resources section below.
Helpful Resources
Treatment Locators
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services
Administration Disaster Technical Assistance
Toll-Free: 1-800-308-3515
Mental Health Treatment Facility Locator
Toll-Free: 1-800-789-2647 (English and espa?ol)
TDD: 1-866-889-2647
SAMHSA Behavioral Health Disaster Response Mobile App
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs*
National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
PTSD Information Voicemail: 1-802-296-6300
U.S. Department of Homeland Security:*
Federal Occupational Health*
Employee Assistance Program for Federal and Federalized
Toll-Free: 1-800-222-0364
TTY: 1-888-262-7848
*Note: Inclusion of a resource in this fact sheet does not imply endorsement by
the Center for Mental Health Services, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health
Services Administration, or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Website: provides U.S. government information and
resources on mental health.
Substance Abuse Treatment Facility Locator
Toll-Free: 1-800-662-HELP (1-800-662-4357)
(24/7 English and espa?ol); TDD: 1-800-487-4889
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Toll-Free: 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)
TTY: 1-800-799-4TTY (1-800-799-4889)
This resource can be found by accessing the Suicide Prevention
Lifeline box once on the SAMHSA website.
SAMHSA Disaster Distress Helpline
Toll-Free: 1-800-985-5990 Text ?TalkWithUs? to 66746
HHS Publication No. SMA-14-4870
(Revised 2014; previously NMH05-0219)
Toll-Free: 1-877-SAMHSA-7 (1-877-726-4727) | |
Tips for Families of Returning Disaster Responders:
It is a process of reconnection for you and all those connected to your loved one.
Increasing attention is being paid to the
challenges that emergency and disaster
responders face as they perform their work
and then return to their loved ones and normal
routine. As the family member of a response
worker, you have faced your own challenges in
keeping your household functioning while your
loved one was away. This tip sheet contains
useful information to help you reunite with a loved
one who has returned home after an assignment.
Before your loved one returns to work and traditional
duties, you can help remind him or her to address
some basic needs that are often neglected during
disaster response work. You can help your returning
loved ones in the following ways:
Returning Home
Reunions following disaster assignments away
from home are usually eagerly anticipated by
all. While they can sometimes be harder than we
expect, they can be effectively managed. When
welcoming a loved one who is returning from
disaster response work, keep the following in mind:
? H
omecoming is more than an event; it is a
process of reconnection for you and all those
connected to your loved one.
ven though coming home represents a return
to safety, security, and ?normality? for your
loved one, the routines and pace at home are
markedly different than life in a disaster zone.
I n your loved one?s absence, you and
other household members have likely
Encourage them to get adequate rest.
Remind them to maintain a healthy diet and exercise
routine, even if it?s just walking.
Suggest they spend relaxation time with family
and friends.
Remind them of the importance of staying healthy and
seeking medical care as needed.
Help them catch up on neglected daily personal
tasks (e.g., paying bills, mowing the lawn, shopping
for groceries).
Ask them to reflect upon what the experience meant
personally and professionally.
assumed many roles and functions that may
now need to change. Be patient during this
period and recognize that many routines may
not return?at least immediately?to what they
were like previously.
? I t may be helpful to take time to reconnect
with your returning loved one before inviting
your larger social circle to visit. Take the time
you need first.
Toll-Free: 1-877-SAMHSA-7 (1-877-726-4727) | |
Adjusting to Life at Home
Some other things to keep in mind while
adjusting to the return of a loved one include
the following:
elebrating a homecoming is important
and should reflect your own style, preferences,
and traditions.
Asking your returning loved one to refrain
from discussing graphic, gruesome, and
highly distressing details will help to
avoid upsetting or traumatizing others.
This is especially important when discussing
the experience with, or in the presence of,
children. Consider sharing the more positive
aspects of your experience.
alking about disaster experiences is a
personal and delicate subject for both
you and your loved one. Many people
prefer to limit sharing such experiences with
only a coworker or close friend. Often the
need or desire to talk about the disaster
experience will vary over time. Let your
returning loved one take the lead. Listening
rather than asking questions is the guiding
rule. You might feel abandonment or anger
about your loved one having been away,
which might make it hard for you to listen
actively and with empathy. These feelings are
natural and will likely go away over time.
? K
eeping your social calendar fairly free
and flexible for the first few weeks after
the homecoming is important. Respect
the need for time alone and time with
significant others, especially children.
elow is a list of some of the common signs of stress
to look for in your returning loved one. These are
normal reactions to working in stressful situations,
but if they persist for more than two weeks or worsen,
professional help may be needed. Contact your
primary care physician or seek assistance from a
trusted mental health professional. Please also refer
to the next section of this tip sheet, titled When To
Seek Help.
Anxiety, restlessness, fear
Insomnia or other sleep problems
Recurring dreams or nightmares or intrusive thoughts
Stomach or gastrointestinal upset/appetite change
Heart palpitations/fluttering
Preoccupation with the disaster events or people
they helped
Sadness and crying easily, hopelessness, or despair
Hyper-vigilance; easily startled
Irritability, anger, resentment, increased conflicts
with friends/family
Overly critical and blaming others or self
Grief, guilt, self-doubt
Increased use of alcohol or other drugs, misuse of
prescription medication
Isolation or social withdrawal
Morbid humor
Decision-making difficulties
Confusion between trivial and major issues
Concentration problems/distractibility
Job- or school-related problems
Decreased libido/sexual interest
? Decreased immune response (e.g., frequent colds,
coughs, other illnesses)
Explain to those who may feel slighted that
this is a strong recommendation for returning
disaster responders.
? A
llowing your loved one an adjustment
period will help him or her to adapt
physically to the local time zone as well as to
environmental changes, such as temperature,
continuous noise, or interruptions.
Toll-Free: 1-877-SAMHSA-7 (1-877-726-4727) | |
Engaging in activities you enjoyed doing
together, such as playing games, shopping
for food, sharing favorite meals, and other
activities can help you reconnect.
nowing that your children?s reactions
may not be what you or your returning
loved one may have expected or desired
is important. Very often children will act shy
at first. They may withdraw or act angry as a
response to their parent?s absence. Be patient
and understanding concerning these reactions
and give children time to get reacquainted.
eing flexible with your homecoming
? B
expectations will allow you to share time
without placing too much pressure on
anyone. It is normal to experience some
disappointment or letdown when the
homecoming is not what you had hoped.
The reality of homecomings and reunions
seldom matches one?s ideas or desires.
Each day may be different and bring with it new
or recurring challenges. With time, patience, and
the use of available resources, a positive outcome
can be achieved.
When To Seek Help
Remember, post-assignment stress responses
like those listed in this tip sheet are generally
common reactions to traumatic situations like
disasters. However, the following symptoms
are signs of severe stress, or could indicate a
medical emergency. If your loved one experiences
these symptoms, seek the help of a primary care
physician or mental health professional. You
can also download the SAMHSA Behavioral
Health Disaster Response Mobile App and
access resources specific to all deployment
phases, including tips for re-entry (for responders,
supervisors, and family members). The Helpful
Resources section at the end of this tip sheet
contains links to help you find a licensed mental
health or substance abuse clinician.
Signs of when to seek help are as follows:
? D
isorientation (e.g., having a ?dazed? feeling,
experiencing memory loss, not being able to
give date/time or recall recent events)
ignificant depression (e.g., pervasive feeling
of sadness, feeling alone and without the
ability to experience any joy in living)
Suicidal (e.g., pervasive feelings of
hopelessness and despair) or homicidal
thoughts or plans
nxiety (e.g., constantly on edge, restless,
obsessive fear of another disaster)
cute psychiatric symptoms (e.g., hearing
voices, seeing visions, having delusional
I nability to care for self (e.g., not eating,
bathing, changing clothing)
roblematic use of alcohol or drugs, misuse
of prescription medication
? Domestic violence, child abuse, or elder abuse
Signs of Positive Change
ven though they may be experiencing some
signs of stress, many returning disaster
responders may also exhibit positive changes
from the experience, such as the following:
? N
ot taking life for granted?living life to
the fullest.
Becoming more understanding and tolerant.
aving increased appreciation for
relationships and loved ones.
Being grateful for what they have.
Having an improved ?perspective.?
Experiencing enhanced spiritual connection.
Toll-Free: 1-877-SAMHSA-7 (1-877-726-4727) | |

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