Baton Rouge, LA -- If you put too much weight on even the strongest pillar it will eventually collapse. And what holds true for things can hold true for people as well.
For some hard-hit Louisiana residents the accumulated stress of dealing with crippling economic loss, or the uprooting of their families due to substantial disaster-related damage to their homes, can become too heavy a burden to bear.
"The recent news report of some economically devastated sugar cane farmers in the Acadiana region taking their own lives is a tragedy we never want to repeat," said Art Jones, state coordinating officer.
Jones said that disaster funding has provided for free crisis counseling services to help deal with emotional stress. "For some people, the devastation caused by these two disastrous storms was the last straw and we want people to know that help is out there."
If you or someone you know is suffering from signs of stress you can request free counseling by calling the Hurricane Assistance Coping Line 800-749-2673 or 1-800-COPE 24 hours a day, seven days a week until further notice.
"Sometimes you need to talk to someone outside of your immediate circle of friends and family to get a better perspective," said Diane McArty a project coordinator for volunteer organizations working with the state and federal recovery officials. McArty said that the coping lines were staffed by professionals specially trained in dealing with stress-related anxiety.
Some stress-related symptoms are anger, fatigue, loss of appetite, sleeplessness, nightmares, depression, inability to concentrate, hyperactivity, or increased alcohol or drug use. These are serious yet common occurrences that can surface after a major disaster.
Mental health experts suggest a number of ways to relieve the symptoms of emotional distress. These include:
- Discuss your feelings with family, friends or neighbors. Share common experiences. It helps to overcome the feelings of anxiety and helplessness;
- Go back to your daily routine as soon as you can, try to maintain a healthy diet and get plenty of sleep;
- Get some type of physical exercise every day, even if it is just walking;
- Hug and comfort your children often. They are especially vulnerable to emotional stress after a disaster; and
- Encourage your children to talk about their fears, reassure them and emphasize that they are not responsible for what happened.
The crisis counseling program is run by the state of Louisiana with all costs reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The outreach effort will provide screening, education and counseling at the request of individuals suffering from disaster-related pressure, worry or strain. It is not necessary to be registered with FEMA to obtain counseling.
The program includes community outreach, consultation and education.