Mississippi River Flooding: Tales of Trauma and Resiliency

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For those who will be displaced for an undetermined amount of time, the anxiety of not knowing whether they will even be able to return to their homes "creates a great deal of stress," said Anthony Mannarino, professor and vice president of the department of psychiatry at Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia.

All of the Red Cross volunteers have been taught psychological first aid, which trains them to identify who will need professional help or might be in the early stages of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), said Rob Yin, manager of disaster mental health services for the American Red Cross.

"We know that certain people are at greater risk for depression and PTSD: if they were trapped, if they saw someone get injured or killed, if they were separated from their family, or people who are off medication because they left their pills behind," he said. These people need, if possible, to be offered professional mental health counseling within the first 30 days of the crisis -- the "golden" month for successful outcomes, Lim says.

Building a Levee of Resiliency

Among those who are not at high risk of PTSD but are nonetheless upset, social support systems, such as those found among the Cutoff folk at the Tunica shelter, are essential, psychiatrists say.

"People need to be with each other, [with those] undergoing similar issues as them," said Dass-Brailsford. It "helps their coping" and gives them "validation that they are not the only ones."

Many of the Cutoff residents at the shelter are there because they feel they need the sense of community they had in their neighborhood, said Harry Johnson. He stayed with a friend right after the evacuation, but came to the shelter so that he could be with his neighbors and friends.

"We could go stay somewhere else, but we have our own cultures so to speak, so a few of us have come back here, staying together, supporting each other. Without each other we would have been too tore up by what's happened," he said.

A main concern for mental health relief workers now is building the kind of social support and psychological resiliency that Johnson and his neighbors seem to have in spades.

"Resiliency isn't a static thing; you can increase it," said Lim. "Help people identify small steps, connect with existing support systems, rebuild a routine, even if it's nothing like it was at home -- these are things our volunteers are trained for," he said.

For the people of the Cutoff, that slice of summer routine will come in the form of a old-fashioned community catfish fry Thursday night at the shelter. "For old time's sake," Johnson said, until things get figured out for their submerged, possibly contaminated hamlet.

"It could be a real difficult cleanup process, depending on how much debris, contaminants," said Johnson. "I'm absolutely going to rebuild though. I was in heaven there. You're mind just feels free there on the lake."

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