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PTSD: National Center for PTSD

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Help for People Affected by Disasters and Mass Violence


Help for People Affected by Disasters and Mass Violence

If you have been through a disaster or act of mass violence, you may need to deal with a lot of stress and loss. You may need resources like basic needs, medical care, or emotional support. Learn about how your needs may change over time and what may help if you continue to have distress.

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Most people who have been through disasters or mass violence will do better if they feel safe, connected to others, calm, capable, and hopeful. Some people may need extra help. For those that do, most can get back on their feet with the education, practical help and support included in Psychological First Aid (PFA), described below.

Practical Help

A key to recovery from disasters or mass violence is feeling that you have the resources to help you rebuild your life. At the most basic, that means information, food, safety, medical care, and shelter. Other important resources are family, community, school or work, and friends. In fact, having resources is so important that many disaster or mass violence support programs focus mostly on providing practical help and building people's resources.

Psychological First Aid

Community recovery workers often use Psychological First Aid (PFA) to provide early support for post-disaster/mass violence needs, such as safety, comfort, calming, and practical help. The National Center for PTSD and National Center for Child Traumatic Stress have created PFA handouts (PDF) that can help you and your family become more resilient after disasters or mass violence. They offer guidance on understanding your reactions, positive coping, and getting and giving social support.

Building Community Resilience

Resilience is the ability to "bounce back" after challenges. Bringing people together to rebuild their communities, access resources, make shared decisions, and learn and grow from what has happened can build community resilience. So can cultural, memorial, spiritual, and religious healing practices and events. Taking part in memorial events and gatherings is important for many people who have been through disaster or mass violence. They can be a way to increase social support. These events also allow people to mourn the community's losses while making meaning of what has happened. Getting back to the normal rhythms and routines of life and crafting a positive vision of the future, with renewed hope, can also help. Local recovery programs support community resilience by linking people with resources that are already in place or that are set up after disasters or mass violence.

Community resilience means honoring the needs of the whole community. That includes supporting those who may need extra assistance or who have been historically excluded. People with health, sensory, or movement challenges, LGTBQ+ people, and people who belong to religious, ethnic, or racial groups that have experienced historical exclusion may feel—or be made to feel—like "outsiders" in some settings. Resilience can be fostered by increasing access to friendship networks, "families of choice," and preferred community organizations. Resilience is also fostered by building bridges to connect communities that have been marginalized and the wider community.

Crisis Counseling and Skill-Building

Community programs and skill-building interventions can assist with more long-term needs after disasters and mass violence. For example, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Crisis Counseling Programs (CCP) provide resource information, support, and practical help to foster resilience and growth in children and adults, families, and communities affected by federally declared disasters. Skills for Psychological Recovery (SPR) is a skill-building intervention provided by crisis counselors that aims to develop and make stronger skills that are related to better recovery following disasters and mass violence, including:

  • Problem-solving
  • Planning more positive and meaningful activities
  • Managing stress reactions
  • Engaging in more helpful thinking
  • Building healthy social connections

You can use SPR handouts to learn about and practice these skills.

Trauma-Focused Treatment

For those in need of more intensive services than PFA, community recovery programs, crisis counseling, and SPR, trauma-focused psychotherapies may be helpful. "Trauma-focused" means that the treatment focuses on memories and the meaning of traumatic events. Trauma-focused psychotherapies use different methods to help process traumatic experiences. For example, some involve visualizing, talking, or thinking about traumatic memories. Others focus on changing unhelpful thoughts and beliefs associated with adverse experiences. They usually last about 8-16 sessions.

Learn more about Effective PTSD Treatments or compare treatments using the PTSD Treatment Decision Aid.

Summing It Up

No matter how you react to a disaster or mass violence, with support and resources you can improve your resilience and coping skills. Seek information and resources online or through community recovery programs that help individuals, families, and the community rebuild and recover.

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Also see: VA Mental Health