Nurses Volunteering In Disaster Areas

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The following suggestions are in part derived from SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) of the US Department of Health and Human Services)   

Disasters have the potential to cause emotional distress and as nurses our role is to be cognizant of the most vulnerable which are:

  • Youth and adults working in the impacted area
  • Loved ones of victims
  • First responders, rescue and recovery workers

Stress, anxiety, and depression are common reactions following the disaster. Nurses volunteering in disaster areas need alertness to the following warning symptoms of the survivors affected by the disaster:

  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Stomach aches or headaches
  • Anger, feeling edgy, or lashing out at others
  • Overwhelming sadness
  • A feeling of needing to be busy all the time
  • Worrying much of time but not sure why
  • Lethargy
  • Increased consumption of alcohol, tobacco, & illicit drugs
  • Anorexia or overeating
  • A continuum of not connecting to others to social isolation
  • Feelings that you will never be happy again

Concepts nurses can employ to help disaster victims cope with the stress:

  • Self- care – encourage healthy eating, limiting alcohol, tobacco, & drugs.
  • Get outside if possible – even walking around the block.
  • Reach out to family and friends – talk to them about how you feel
  • Talk to your children – remember the children will probably feel angry, confused, sad, and scared. Let them know it is OK to have these feelings and encourage the children to talk about what is on their mind.
  • Try to limit TV news reports and social media about the disaster.
  • Help the children and teens maintain as normal as a schedule to the extent possible.
  • The adults should role model healthy eating.Encourage sleep hygiene as some will have trouble falling asleep whereas others will keep waking up during the night  Suggestions include to go to bed when ready to sleep and don’t watch TV, use cell phone or lap top in bed.
  • Limit food intake (especially sugar), alcohol, and caffeine at least an hour before bed. If the person wakes up and cannot return to sleep suggest journaling about feelings.Take care of pets or get out into nature as both of these tend to make you feel better  Suggest volunteering at an animal shelter or in the disaster area when appropriate to own area.

Encourage self-help for appropriate Individuals. Call 1-800-985-5990 or text “TalkWithUs” to 66746 for a Disaster Distress Helpline answered by trained crisis counselors. These lines are available 24 hours/day; 7 days a week. TTY for Deaf or Hearing Impaired: 1-800-846-8517; Spanish Speakers: text “Hablanos” to 66746