How Red Cross supports mental health in emergencies and beyond

When a disaster strikes, the Canadian Red Cross quickly mobilizes to meet people’s basic needs: shelter, food, clothing, registration and so on. But there’s another aspect of the Red Cross response that’s perhaps not as well-known, but is equally important to the people impacted by the disaster:  our work to support psychosocial wellbeing in times of crisis and through the long recovery phase after disasters.

Red Cross worker gives someone a hugEmergencies such as the British Columbia wildfires or the Alberta fires in 2016 not only destroy infrastructure and properties, impact people’s livelihoods and interrupt their normal day-to-day activities, but they also take a toll on people’s mental health.

“The impact is different for every individual, every family, and each community,” explains Alison Paul, Senior Manager, Safety and Wellbeing at the Canadian Red Cross. This is why Safety and Wellbeing teams are an integral part of the Red Cross response from the moment a disaster strikes and through the recovery. These teams work in affected communities alongside Red Cross caseworkers to provide emotional support and referrals to existing services.

Recovery from disasters: long process

“We know that psychosocial recovery from a disaster is not a linear process. Studies show that the impacts are felt for 5-6 years. Some of the stressors for people recovering from disaster include continuing to meet their family’s basics needs, supporting their children, dealing with ongoing losses, etc.”

Anniversaries can also be a trigger resulting in increased anxiety for some people impacted by disasters. Alison Paul recommends people take small, positive steps will that will increase a sense of control, and reach out to others to connect and receive help.  Asking for help is a sign of strength.

In addition to providing direct support to impacted people, the Canadian Red Cross works in close collaboration with government partners and local organizations to coordinate services. This includes Red Cross funding programs to increase community resiliency and building capacity all the while ensuring there isn’t duplication of services. 

As an example, after the Alberta fires, the Canadian Red Cross provided support to S.O.S. Crisis Prevention in Fort McMurray so they could meet the increased need for their services in the community. In fires-impacted regions of B.C., organizations can apply for funding through the Red Cross’ Community Partnerships Program.

Find more tips on how to cope with a crisis.  
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