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The Mental Impact From The Superstorm

Although the massive amounts of debris from Superstorm Sandy have been hauled away, the emotional scars remain almost a year later.  For many of us, they will never leave.  But there is help out there. 

Culture of Health Forum at Community Medical Center in Toms River
Culture of Health Forum at Community Medical Center in Toms River (Tom Mongelli, Townsquare Media NJ)

Understanding the gravity of what happened to our community and how it touched so many of our lives is one of the first steps towards recovery.  With all of the devastation brought on by the October 29th, 2012 storm, the impact on the mental states of our population is often never mentioned or overlooked.  That is, until now.

On Friday, a special panel discussion was held at the Barnabas Health Behavioral Center in Toms River.  Community leaders, local officials, mental health professionals and others heard a tale that continues to be told but mostly behind closed doors.

On the panel, there were several guests invited to share their experiences.  They included Don Dalesio from Townsquare Media, Carolyn Beauchamp, president of the Mental Health Association of New Jersey, Dr. John R. Lumpkin, senior vice president and director of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Care Group, Faith Liguori, executive director of Ocean Housing Alliance, Inc. and Belmar Mayor Matt Doherty.

While Townsquare Media has been telling many of those stories for the last year, other media outlets have been quick to avoid the mental health component, simply due to the stigma attached.  Often times, people get concerned about being looked at as “crazy” or acting like a baby.  That is not true at all and officials on the panel were quick to point out how Sandy affected all of us in different ways – some more serious than others.

Carol Benevy
Carol Benevy (Tom Mongelli, Townsquare Media NJ)

Carol Benevy with Barnabas Health’s New Jersey Hope and Healing says “no one should ever feel ashamed about either having a mental illness or needing treatment for a devastating event.  Almost a year later, the needs of survivors are still emerging.  A lot of that has to do with the fact that the reality has set in that this would not be a quick recovery.  This could and will take years.  Although there has been progress, we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface.”

Want a startling figure?  As of today, an estimated 20,000 or more people from New Jersey are still not back in their homes.  Most of them are living with relatives, in hotels, in rentals or other locations until they can either renovate, rebuild, raise their homes or in some cases, relocate out of the area.  In the days and weeks following the storm, the needs were food, water, heat, shelter and safety.  Now, the focus has changed on the recovery and rebuilding process and moving forward with their lives.  That can be difficult when the devastation was so widespread.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Barnabas Health are partnering to hold a series of health forums and mental health outreach programs.  Dr. Lumpkin says “we have invested $5 million dollars alone on Sandy.”

Lumpkin explained to the crowd that the worst mental health problems occur six to 12 months after a devastating event. The organization has given $700,000 to the Mental Health Association of New Jersey to help train members of the community to spot individuals who may need mental health services and get them the treatment they need.

Lumpkin explained there is often a delay in mental health problems after a devastating hurricane. “Right after the hurricane, people are so focused on getting the house together or trying to get out of temporary housing. After then, the reality of the damage and destruction of their lives begins to set in and that is when we need to have interventions to help people with these mental illnesses,” he said.

In addition Benevy with Barnabas says “those affected may have depression and anxiety, which are signs of PTSS or post-traumatic stress syndrome.  Watch for changes in appetite, mood, feelings etc.  If you have any symptoms, you should seek treatment or at least talk to someone.”

The upcoming forums will be announced when they are scheduled.  We will keep you posted on those dates and times.

For more information on how you can get help dealing with the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, visit mhanj.org. You can also call 1-800-367-8850

 

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