A Different Kind of Disaster

By Sid Boersma, Clinical Social Worker & Mental Health Leader for Southwest WI Chapter

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I had the honor and privilege of serving as a Disaster Mental Health Responder in Las Vegas for ten days after the October 1st mass shooting. There was a heavy emphasis on Red Cross Mental Health and Health Care in this deployment given the nature of the event. I assisted with two blood drives, attended the Vice President Pence visit when Las Vegans from many Churches and Synagogues walked to City Hall from the four corners of the city to come together in healing. I helped at two other healing events and attended a memorial for the slain Las Vegas hero and policeman, Charlie.

vegas1 My work also included working one-on-one with victims and their families at the Family Assistance Center and via an Integrated Coordinated Condolences Team, which includes Spiritual Care, Health Services, Caseworker and Mental Health support for individuals and families. I have been deployed a number of times to floods and hurricanes. This one was different. Difficult. I was struck with the intensity and the great needs of those who lost loved ones and friends and those who were physically and very emotionally injured. One gal who lost her best friend in the shooting and was scarred by shrapnel herself will never be forgotten. She’ll never forget the trauma but we helped her move forward. Showing up was the best thing we can do. To listen, to help people heal.

 My heart continues to be a bit broken with the many grieving folks I met with. This deployment has required me to take time to reflect and relax and heal as caregiver stress was clearly a reality for me. My advice is that we care for self and others during and following all of our work as Red Cross volunteers. Take time for yourself and get help from others too. We need to provide so much tender loving care to others in these events that it may take the wind out of ourselves. I am breathing a little more deeply these days and appreciating life a bit more. It certainly is precious, isn’t it?

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The American Red Cross offers free 24/7 counseling and support, contact the Disaster Distress Helpline at 800-985-5990 or text “TalkWithUs’ to 66746.

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