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HURRICANE BLUES?: Program offers help for those dealing with emotional, mental aftermath from Matthew


Date: February 05, 2017
Source: The St. Augustine Record
Author:  Sheldon Gardner


As people rebuild their homes and repair their lives, teams of crisis counselors are reaching out to those living in areas that were damaged by Hurricane Matthew.

The goal of Project H.O.P.E. — which stands for Helping Our People in Emergencies — is to assist those who are grieving or experiencing other problems related to the hurricane.

Some people may be dealing with sadness, anxiety or other emotional costs from the storm, officials said. Project H.O.P.E volunteers have been going to areas in St. Johns County and other counties.

Their goal is to listen to those who need someone to talk to, and make sure people are getting the help that they need, said Dr. Christine Cauffield, CEO of Lutheran Services Florida Health Systems, which is administering the program.

The help could be mental health treatment referrals — the volunteers are not licensed mental health clinicians — or connection to other resources as people rebuild their lives and home.

If someone needs assistance, people are available to talk over the phone or can come in person, said Sarah Davidson, St. Johns County team leader for Project H.O.P.E.

The service is free and allows people to get help anonymously, officials said.

“We are not out there to diagnose,” Davidson said. “We are just there to lend an ear and to connect [people] to some resources.”

Funding for the program comes from the Florida Department of Children and Families, which provided $393,000 in Federal Emergency Management Agency dollars to Lutheran Services Florida to arrange for disaster behavioral health services in the region, according to Jessica Sims, communications director for DCF. DCF provided the funding after the federal disaster declaration that came from Hurricane Matthew.

“While providing these services, LSF will continue to assess the potential for long-term behavioral health needs in these communities,” Sims said.

Since it has been about four months since the hurricane, more emotions are starting to surface as the initial shock has faded, Davidson said.

“We’re seeing a lot of sadness and a little bit of hopelessness,” Davidson said.

After a hurricane, it’s not unusual for people to experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, especially if they have lost their home or been displaced, Cauffield said. Feelings of depression, helplessness or anxiety are also not unusual.

Having someone to listen is a relief for people who have been through something like a hurricane, Cauffield said.

“They want to tell their story,” Cauffield said. “They want to share all the trials and tribulations that they went through and their families incurred as a result. They need to be validated that what they’re feeling is normal.”