Monday, April 12, 1999

Psychological counseling available to victims

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MONTGOMERY — Thousands of Tristate residents survived Friday's deadly twister untouched, but there may be lingering psychological wounds.

Judy Wright, center, and her two sons, Daniel, left, and Ian, for pizza and soft drinks on Glenmill in Sycamore Twp. Cincinnati Enquirer/Michael E. Keating
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        In the next days, weeks or months, experts said, symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) could surface. It's something that can happen after such disasters, and Tristate mental health officials are scrambling to address it.

        “It's just like a war. It'll change you,” said Dr. Edward Otten, professor of emergency medicine at the University of Cincinnati and chief medical officer for the Kentucky chapter of the National Disaster Medical System.

        Dr. Otten, who was at the tornado scene Friday as a member of Hamilton County's Urban Search and Rescue Task Force, said “some disaster victims respond by crying, some by getting angry and some by withdrawing into themselves.”

        Red Cross counselors will be at Good Shepherd Catholic Church, 8815 E. Kemper Road, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. today through Saturday and 1-7 p.m. Sunday. There is no charge and anyone affected by Friday's storm is welcome.

        Sycamore schools will be closed today. But when they re-open, counselors will be available to help students and families.

        Dan Nelson, a psychiatrist at Children's Hospital Medical Center who counseled victims of the Oklahoma City bombing, will visit Sycamore Junior High School today to work with teachers and administrators. They, in turn, will work with students.

        American Red Cross Psychiatric Clinic nurse specialist Debbie Miller was among the 75 mental health counselors in Hamilton, Warren and Clinton counties who have helped more than 300 victims and witnesses to the tornado.

        “I talked to a man working in his yard. There was a quivering in his voice. I asked him to sit down with me and talk,” said Ms. Miller.

        She said the psychological aftermath of the tornado is “pretty similar” to that of the Ohio River flood of 1997.

        Experts say the symptoms of PTSD are diverse. A lack of concentration, difficulty in sleeping, and moodiness and irritability are just some of the tell-tale signs.

        Talking about the disaster — especially with children — lessens the likelihood of PTSD, which can cause psychological harm if it remains untreated.

        Montgomery resident Glynis Smulian and her family are heeding that advice. The family huddled in their dark basement in the Montgomery Woods subdivision during Friday's tornado. Though their back yard is now giant kindling, their home was largely undamaged.

        While contending with sleep difficulties and a lack of concentration, Ms. Smulian said the family has discussed the disaster — and their survival.

        “We've all been talking about it among ourselves,” she said. “We're really lucky.”

        Disaster counseling is a two-part process that consists of “diffusing,” when victims talk in small groups to mental health experts about their experiences.

        “It gives people a sense that they are not alone,” said Ms. Miller. She stressed that every person is different and psychological reactions vary. But ideally, diffusing should take place within 24 to 48 hours after a disaster.

        This is followed by “debriefing” a week or two later, when victims talk about what they felt during and after the disaster.

        “Once they get settled and they have time to sit with their feelings, that's when the issues come up,” Ms. Miller said.

        Those needing counseling can contact the following organizations for assistance:

        Red Cross, 579-3900.

        United Way Helpline Information and Referral Center, serving Hamilton, Clermont, Brown, Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties, 721-7900.

        281-CARE is Talbert House's Crisis Care Center serving Hamilton County, 281-2273.

        Hamilton County Family and Children First Council, 946-5465.

        Fernside Center for Grieving Children, for those who lost a loved one, 841-1012.


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- Psychological counseling available to victims
Symptoms of trauma
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How to give/get help
Road and school closings; curfews