West Alabama Mental Health offers crisis team

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 22, 2005

REGION-The West Alabama Mental Health Center has begun offering a Mental Health Crisis Team to help Hurricane Katrina evacuees cope with the stress and pressures endured during the storm.

Executive Director Kelley Barnes said several people from the Louisiana and Mississippi Gulf Coasts

“We determined there were probably about 300 individuals in our coverage area,” Barnes said. “Of that number we determined about 75 percent of them would need crisis counseling.”

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Barnes said when you put the numbers together the result is a great need. Barnes said they were fortunate to have been able to help fill that need.

“If you do the math, that adds up to about 260 individuals that would need some kind of care,” Barnes said. “Unfortunately, we do not have enough crisis counseling in Choctaw and Greene County. Fortunately we were able to get three people on staff that were very qualified.”

Evacuees need for help would not be a short-term process. Barnes said most evacuees would be in the area for an extended period of time.

“It is estimated that they will stay here from nine to 18 months,” Barnes said. “We knew that we would need someone here to provide that long term care.”

Medication has been another issue evacuees have faced. Many either do not have access to their medication or simply can’t afford it. Barnes said a donation by Eli Lilly to help with medication would help in this department. Barnes also said they are trying to take a proactive approach to seek out individuals who need help.

Evacuees have been assisted by new additions to the staff, which include Donald Woods, Ph.D. Northwestern University, Yolanda Johnson, MSW and Harrison Black, MS.

Barnes said they were happy to have each member on board. She also said one of the new staff members came all the way from the West coast.

“We are very pleased to have Dr. Woods with us,” Barnes said. “He is here from California and he is trying to get licensed for Alabama. We certainly hope we can keep him here.”

Another staff member is an evacuee herself. Johnson, who had recently relocated to New Orleans from the Black Belt, was among the thousands who were forced to flee when Katrina made landfall.

“Yolanda is also here and we are very happy to have her,” Barnes said. “Yolanda is an evacuee herself. She moved down to New Orleans just before the hurricane and it left her house a story and a half under water. We really feel like she will be able to understand the stress that the evacuees are under and can really be of help to them.”

Services offered would be Individual Crisis Counseling designed to assist disaster survivors in understanding their current situation and reactions and reviewing their options.

This consists of emotional support and linkage with community resources as well as disaster recovery and evacuee support groups; disaster recovery work in classrooms with affected students, evacuees, teachers, and administrators and disaster recovery with families.

For more information on assistance contact 1-800-239-2901.