trees3By Karen Ranus, NAMI Austin Executive Director

The grounds of the Austin State Hospital campus (where the NAMI Austin offices are situated) looks like a small child was playing a game of “Pick-up Sticks” with the trees and left in the middle of the game. As I drove on campus for the first time on Tuesday, I was shocked and saddened by the vast destruction of these historic and beautiful grounds. The debris will take weeks to clean up, and each time I drive on campus I am reminded of the emotional impact of living amid destruction.

Because the focus after a disaster is often on the physical aspects of clean up and providing food and shelter, it’s easy to forget the not-so-visible psychological impacts of these disasters not only on the individuals directly affected but also those impacted indirectly such as volunteers and those of us tuned in to every media image.

There are steps that individuals can take for themselves and their families to mitigate and lessen the mental health impact felt by the community. After an event has passed, it is important to:

  • Talk about it. Sharing feelings can help relieve stress and is a reminder that you are not alone in facing this difficult experience. If you have children, encourage them to share their concerns and feelings about the disaster with you.
  • Limit exposure to images of the disaster. Keep informed about new information and developments but avoid overexposure to news rebroadcasts of the events.
  • Take care of yourself. Sleep, healthy food and staying hydrated are important every day, but our bodies require an extra dose of self-care in times of stress.
  • Ask for help when you need it. If your feelings do not go away or are so intense that they interfere with your ability to function in daily life, it’s important to reach out and get help. No one should try to cope alone, and asking for help is not a sign of weakness.

One valuable resource many are not aware of is the Disaster Distress Helpline, a national hotline dedicated to providing year-round immediate crisis counseling for people who are experiencing emotional distress related to any natural or human-caused disaster. Calling or texting the helpline puts you in contact with a trained crisis counselor.

Disaster Distress Helpline


TalkWithUs to 66746 (text)

Recovery for the communities most impacted by the recent floods should include our close attention to both the physical and emotional needs of all those affected. In the midst of cleaning up, communities benefit greatly when we listen closely for the need to talk and share and provide access to professional help when needed.