Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey more than nine months ago, but mental health issues related to the storm could be on the rise. Senior Vice President and Director of the Health Care Group at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Dr. John Lumpkin explained that the worst mental health problems occur six to 12 months after a devastating event like Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy. He said his organization has given more than $700,000 to the Mental Health Association of New Jersey to help train members of the community to spot individuals who may need mental health services and get them the treatment they need.
Lumpkin explained there is often a delay in mental health problems after a devastating hurricane. “Right after the hurricane, people are so focused on getting the house together or trying to get out of temporary housing. After then, the reality of the damage and destruction of their lives begins to set in and that is when we need to have interventions to help people with these mental illnesses,” he said.
Those affected by the hurricane may have depression and anxiety, which are signs of post traumatic stress syndrome. “These are symptoms that sometimes only their neighbors are going to notice or maybe the mailman or the postman. And those are the individuals that we’re hoping to get involved in identifying and helping people get therapy,” Lumpkin said.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is giving $736,000 to the Mental Health Association of New Jersey as part of its $5 million effort to provide relief and recovery from Hurricane Sandy. Lumpkin said he expects part of the money to be used for mental health first aid training courses for about 1,000 people throughout the state.
“These are individuals who would be going to the community as volunteers. They may be postmen, they may be police officers and train them how to identify impending mental health problems or substance addiction problems. And so once they’ve identified that, they can then help these individuals get into care and be able to treat their problems,” Lumpkin said.
He explained the necessary services will be customized to each individual. “Sometimes it can be just a few visits. Many of times it will take months of therapy,” Lumpkin said.
According to Lumpkin, mental health issues after an event like Hurricane Sandy affect everyone, including children, adults, the elderly and the disabled. “Part of what this program will fund will be peers who will be able to go in and provide assistance. And so we’re training the elderly, we’re training those with disabilities, we’re training individuals who are recovering from addiction, all of those will interface with similar people in the communities and provide assistance,” he said.
Lumpkin said the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy could be stressful for some. “Recovery is a slow process. Our state has come a long way, but there’s still a long way to go. And for those who’ve lost homes, lost all of the things that they hold dear — their keepsakes, their photographs — the year anniversary will be a time for them to reflect on that. And that’s gonna be a time when it may bring out some of the signs of depression,” he said. “And with this program we hope to be able to identify them with family members and members in the community and get them into treatment.”
While Lumpkin said the training programs will help volunteers reach out and help people get services they need, he also said people can visit the Mental Health Association of New Jersey website for information about where to get care.