Red Cross launches mental health program to ease oil anxiety

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - By Danielle Thomas – bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - The Deepwater Horizon well may be capped but a disaster relief agency says the emotional toll from the oil spill continues to mount. That's why the Red Cross launched a new mental health program called 'Neighbor to Neighbor.'

Mental health professionals from across the coast came together to learn strategies to reach out to people who are hurting. Nowadays, there are fewer workers picking up tar balls on coast beaches. However, because of the oil related economic downturn, the Red Cross says anxiety is still running high.

"Whether they were a part of commercial fishing or whether they were a part of the tourism industry or whether they're just worried about house values, home values, everyone is impacted," Dr. Bill Martin said. "The impact is stress."

The Neighbor To Neighbor program trains mental health professionals on how to recognize that someone is having trouble coping and what steps they can take to help.

"Whether it's somebody that you know or somebody that you don't know, it's going to teach you some steps, so you can recognize, be able to observe, be able to offer some help, be able just to be there," said Pamela McDonald, a clinical social worker from Lucedale. "We're a caring group of people here on the coast a lot of times we just need a little additional tools to know how to care for people, so that's what this is about."

The Red Cross says listening or encouraging positive thinking are just some of the ways to reach out to family, friends and neighbors facing difficulties.

"We know that stress accumulates. That it just keeps building," said Dr. Martin. "So our effort was to put together a program that would help people on the coast build their resilience to actually cope with stress, build their problem solving skills, stress management skills."

"To actually teach people psychological first aid which is a set of action steps that we as individuals can take to help others in managing their situation."

Mental health experts say when helping people deal with the difficulties of life it's important to keep in mind cultural differences.

Psychologist Dung Ngo attended the training session. He says many in the Vietnamese Community could benefit from the techniques taught by the Red Cross but are not aware of the resources available to them.

"I do think that it's very important that when we provide psychological services to people we need to consider their cultural upbringings, their value belief system," said Dr. Ngo. "Culture affects how we think, how we feel and how we respond or react to situations."

Red Cross officials say they're training local mental health providers, so they can instruct people in the community on resilience skills. Any organizations interested in receiving the training should contact their local Red Cross Chapter.

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