Ever wonder what to do when you are working with a survivor of a disaster? For example, a homeowner whose house TR is mucking out or someone receiving care from a TR medical team. First, just be you. We often put a lot of pressure on ourselves to say exactly the right thing when someone is hurting, grieving or stressed; but most people just want someone to listen and make a space for them to talk. We aren’t counselors. Ask yourself: What would we do for a friend who was hurting? Connecting person to person is the most important thing you can do.
Second, remember these steps of talking to someone in distress.
A = Assess
- To begin, Find a quiet space so they know our focus is on them, make eye contact and listen as they share the situation. Ask directly what they need or what you can do to make things easier for them right now.
- Watch for these signs of disengagement
- Looking glassy-eyed, vacant or lost
- Unresponsive to verbal questions or commands
- Disoriented, aimless or confused behavior
- Uncontrollable crying, hyperventilating or rocking
- Frantic searching behaviors
- If they are really agitated, shaking, trembling or crying then you’ll need to get them to slow down and be prepared to alert professional medical services.
- They may just need to vent. “Wow, that sounds really tough” may be sufficient for them to feel heard. Remember, we’re deployed to bring the muscle to the disaster response.
B = Breathe
Ask them to sit on a chair and you sit with them. Help them take a break and refocus. Or perhaps a walk around the neighborhood where you can hear stories of about their hometown.
C = Connect.
People who have survived disasters need to connect to their usual sources of social support as quickly as possible. If they can return to some sort of routine (school, work, church/synagogue/mosque attendance, etc.) it can be very helpful. Sometimes on the worst day of their life, a person forgets who they can count on and to whom they can turn. Help them remember those resources.
Submitted by Beth Sperber Richie, Ph.D.; Maryland State Coordinator and Mahmood (Mike) Usman, MD; City Coordinator, Pittsburgh. Special thanks to the R3 leadership team whose ideas formed the basis for this blog.