Monday, December 05, 2016

Experts warn of latent mental health concerns following fires like the ones in Smoky Mountains

Trevor Cates stood amid the ruins of the fellowship hall of Banner
Baptist Church, which he attends, at Gatlinburg. (Getty Images)
Survivors of fire, in addition to facing the long road to recovery from structural damage, are often in need of mental-health services, experts tell Jeff Martin of The Associated Press. "In some ways, escaping a fire-filled forest as thousands did recently in and around Gatlinburg, Tenn., can be more traumatic than hurricanes, floods or earthquakes," Martin reports. "One reason: Flames spread so rapidly that people had no time to prepare."

Becky Stoll, vice president of crisis and disaster management at Centerstone, one of the nation's largest behavioral health care providers, told Martin, "To have your life turned upside down is much more difficult than if you had time to brace for it, and in this case I don't think people had time to brace for it." Also, the visual image of seeing the flames causing damage can be hard to shake, said Valerie Cole of the American Red Cross.

Cole said that while some possessions can be salvaged from disasters such as earthquakes and tornadoes, a fire usually leaves nothing behind but ashes, Martin writes. She said after a fire survivors typically are thankful they are alive and focus on basic needs, but down the line, maybe six or nine months later, is when people begin to get frustrated or disillusioned. That can cause post-traumatic stress, leading to increased rates of suicide, depression, anger and substance abuse. (Read more)

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