The urgency of a disaster like Hurricane Sandy highlights a critical service that behavioral health professionals provide every day: helping people who are suffering from the long-term impact of untreated personal trauma, mental illness, or addiction.
After September 11th, Katrina, and now Hurricane Sandy, we receive so many calls and emails from behavioral health organizations asking how to have their important work seem relevant to year-end donors who may be turning their attention and giving to national hurricane relief efforts.
One mental health center we work with in the Northeast has begun housing local evacuees, out of necessity. The executive director told me, "What we know about trauma is that, initially, people are so focused on basic survival that the serious depression and anxiety that follows the trauma often doesn't hit right away. Our staff members are trained to work with these families even after the water has receded and the rebuilding has begun. We need to do a better job of telling our supporters about our expertise in working with victims of trauma and about the life-saving services we provide here every day."
Most relief agencies are only able to remain in the area temporarily. When these emergency service programs leave town and the deeper impact of the trauma sets in, skilled counseling and support services become critical.
My advice as you are talking to your supporters and donors in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, regardless of where you are located: stress the expertise of your staff in working with people in trauma. Most people do not realize the level of professional skill needed to counsel and support people in crisis. Let them know this is what your staff does every day with people in your local community who are experiencing their own personal crises.
How does your organization work with people to prevent trauma or mitigate its effects? Do you brag enough about your competent staff or your client success stories? Does your community value your organization as a critical resource for psychological trauma care?
Here are four questions to get you started:
- What aspect of your organization's work most directly affects individuals and families before, during, and after a crisis?
- What is your track record in supporting these people?
- What are the two most valuable lessons you have learned over the years about working with people in crisis?
- Is there one story that comes to mind of an individual or family?
I look forward to hearing your responses to these questions.