After the Disaster


Dr. Nancy Haugen, a specialist in Disaster Mental Health, shares these six empowering ways to support disaster victims in the month following a crisis:

1.   Emergency Rooms have a Golden Hour – the time it takes to get to the ER when there has been a trauma.  In the world of disaster mental health, there is a Golden Month.  There are 30 days from the point of a disaster to make a major difference. Intervention, support, and kindness shared during those 30 days will greatly improve the long-term outcome.

2.   The human brain tends to shut down in a disaster and victims will not be able to process words very well. They will connect with your voice and body posture, however.

3.   Avoid problem solving. Your most important job is to just LISTEN.

4.   Provide them with a written form listing available support resources.  Your spoken words may not be remembered. A written list can be referred to again and again.

5.   Ask open-ended questions.  How can I help is not particularly helpful because it requires more brain work to figure things out than the victim may be able to process. Share two choices with yes or no answers (May I drop off some food on Sunday or Monday?)

6.   After the fires are contained and the media has left, the honeymoon period – We’re going to make it! We’re going to stick together! – will begin to fade and most victims will experience depression. The research indicates that the depression will last for a while, so ongoing support, interventions, and kindness will be needed. After the depression period lifts (and this can take up to two years), victims often feel they are entering a new life.