Effective delivery of mental health services in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy was the subject discussed by a panel of social service providers who gathered at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey Friday morning, March 8.
During the forum, "Superstorm Sandy: The Emotional Aftermath," moderator Steve Adubato, well-known author, lecturer, and political analyst, queried the panel on the emotional impact of an event like Sandy.
Keynote Speaker, former Rhode Island Congressman Patrick Kennedy, opened his address with the claim that "trauma is everywhere today." He said that the distinction commonly made between "health care" and "mental health care" is a false one. He said that such thinking creates a stigma for those who are suffering emotional pain. He also suggested that fear of being stigmatized is what keeps people from seeking the help they need.
Advocating for veterans of the Global War on Terror, Kennedy stated that our "veterans signature wound is traumatic brain injury." This fact coupled with a fear of being stigmatized accounts for the fact that 18 veterans a day commit suicide, he said. He further observed that the only difference between a wound to a limb and traumatic brain injury is that one is visible and the other is not. Because brain injuries are invisible they are often perceived as "character issues," he said.
The panel discussed the long-term impact of an event like Sandy and some of the ways that service providers might improve the delivery of services.
Adubato noted the failure of media outlets to broadcast public service announcements. All agreed that "a clear, prompt, predictable path forward" fosters hope for victims, and they challenged FEMA over funding and rebuilding delays.
Services to children of families affected by Sandy might benefit from "classroom based intervention." The panel suggested that schools under pressure to get students back on track may not be aware of the value such services provide.
In closing, both Adubato and Kennedy pledged to help raise the public's awareness of available services and their value. They also encouraged members of the audience to contact their representatives and use social media to get the message out.
--Submitted by John Ennis
John Ennis is employed by the Borough of Fort Lee