September is National Preparedness Month. When unexpected disaster occurred, families and individuals are likely to experience trauma that may have long-lasting effects. The National Council on Family Relations offers research findings and recommendations for disaster survivors and their family members.
- Trauma Survivors are not “ill.” Most trauma survivors will not experience long-term mental illness and will remain healthy, functional, and resilient individuals. Time and support will help them return to well-being.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is not inevitable. Most trauma survivors do not report symptoms consistent with the diagnostic criteria for PTSD. It is important to be aware of other signs of distress as well.
- The rush to “closure” is not cure. Well-meaning but uninformed interventions promoting premature “closure” can exacerbate existing trauma.
- Encourage families to take charge of their own recovery. Family scientists discover that families usually have the tools that they need for coping with crisis. Helpers can assist families in recognizing their own existing resourcefulness and resiliency.
- Tap the strength of community. It is important to recognize that interventions and support for survivors of a disaster are best provided by a variety of people across both formal and informal means. Certified Family Life Educators, clergy and community leaders can be effective facilitators for this process, making help more available and timely.
- Help the helpers. Those helping trauma survivors must also be on guard for experiencing secondary trauma, or “compassion fatigue.” Caregivers and counselors should have access to information on preventing and dealing with burnout. The helper’s spouse or partner should also be involved in the process.
- Reconstruct hope. Research on families and trauma shows that traumatized families’ journey back to well-being is not only possible — it is the usual and expected outcome. There is hope, and the odds are in their favor.