By Zachary Usher, Mass Care, VAL and Community Services Branch Chief
The holiday season is usually a time to reflect on the past year and enjoy time with loved ones, but this year feels different. A global pandemic, supply shortages and a record-breaking hurricane season top the list of reasons why this year will be remembered as one that impacted and disrupted lives across the world.
For many, this year has brought personal challenges and hardships: grief of losing a loved one, anxiety from losing a job or disruptions due to property damage after a disaster. Whether you faced a hardship in 2020—or 20 months or 20 years ago—the holiday season can bring unpleasant reminders. Songs, gifts and holiday parties can trigger painful and sad memories of the past.
If you are isolating at home, away from loved ones or coworkers, feelings of seclusion, depression and anxiety can creep in. Other people cannot see it, but these feelings can be overwhelming. You might feel alone, but you are not – help is available.
Anyone in the United States and its territories can get help 24 hours a day throughout the year through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Disaster Distress Helpline:
- Call or text 1-800-985-5990 (press “2” for Spanish).
- If you are deaf or hard of hearing, you can use the text option.
- For TTY, use your preferred Relay service or dial 7-1-1 and then 1-800-985-5990.
This toll-free, multilingual, and confidential crisis support service provides trained counselors for those experiencing distress or other mental health concerns related to any natural or human-caused disasters and can refer callers to state and community resources for follow-up care and support. For additional information on the Disaster Distress Helpline, please visit the SAMHSA website.
In addition, FEMA’s Crisis Counseling Assistance and Training Program (CCP) helps individuals and communities recover from the effects of natural or human-made disasters through short-term intervention that provides emotional support, basic crisis counseling and connections to support systems. This program is anonymous and free of charge. Counselors are available to help people understand their feelings and learn how to handle stress. They do not make diagnoses or keep records.
FEMA and SAMHSA award and administer CCP to support those who are seeking help. All 50 states, the District of Columbia and three territories received a Major Disaster Declaration for the Crisis Counseling Program as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19).
Four territories and 46 states have chosen to apply for the program and have received awards. It provides no-cost services to help individuals and communities recover from the psychological effects of COVID-19 through community-based outreach and educational services that build resilience. To find out which programs are available in your community, contact your state or territory public health or human service office.
With limited gatherings and social distancing constructs, it is important to pay attention to how you’re feeling this holiday season. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to reach out for support. If you notice a family member or loved one having a difficult time, encourage them to get help.