WMU News

Helping to heal the psyche critical part of recovery

Sept. 24, 2001

KALAMAZOO -- Unlike most natural disasters, the most immediate need for victims and families of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., isn't finding shelter and food, it's finding emotional and psychological support.

Dr. Kenneth E. Reid, WMU professor of social work and a mental health specialist with the American Red Cross, is on call with that disaster relief agency to work at either disaster site by providing mental health services for victims, their families and the volunteers. A veteran of disasters around the globe, including hurricanes, tornadoes and floods, Reid says that "even the disaster workers are not prepared" for the devastation they are encountering.

"Just in the last year, the Red Cross started training its volunteers on how to deal with disasters caused by weapons of mass destruction, so it's a whole different experience for everybody," he says. "We aren't dealing with the mass care of getting food and housing to victims, we are dealing with profound loss. For the victims' families, there's a lot of hurting and grief and questions that will go on forever. For the volunteers who are there digging in the debris and finding body tissue, it will be overwhelming. They all need to talk and deal with the disaster in order to go on."

Because the recovery and clean-up phase of the disaster is certain to be a protracted, agonizing process, Reid says the victims, families and volunteers will need support long after the world's attention has changed and the television crews have packed up and left.

"Right now we're in the heroic phase," he says. "The disasters are still very much in the media and there's a lot of attention on them, but eventually the attention will shift to other places and the heroic phase will go into business as usual -- except for the victims. They'll still live with it everyday."

Media contact: Mark Schwerin, 616 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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