We’re Here to Listen and Support

To reach out for free 24/7 counseling or support, contact the Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990 or text “TalkWithUs’ to 66746.

On Thursday, November 8, the lives of an entire community changed forever. The small town of Paradise, California, was ravaged by a wildfire that moved so quickly and aggressively, that townspeople literally were forced to run for their lives. Countless stories have already been shared of terrified residents driving through flames, some being forced to abandon their cars and flee on foot. Sadly, many never made it to safety. 

Those who did make it out safely found refuge in the homes of friends, family and in shelters scattered through the communities of Oroville, Chico, and Gridley.  

But what happens now? How in the world do people who have lost everything and survive such terrifying experiences process such a disaster? How does anyone cope with such loss? 

TIPS_Were Here To Listen And Support“What we find in those who seek refuge in our Red Cross shelters are those who have no other place to go,” explained Steve Clavere, Mental Health Lead for the American Red Cross. Clavere and his fellow mental health volunteers are serving evacuees at all of the Red Cross shelters in the area. “We see folks who are dazed, in shock and at a loss as to what to do next.”  

As the death toll climbs and the names of the victims are released, the mood at the shelter and in the community changes. Reality is sets in and the hopes that loved ones made it out alive may fade.  

The Red Cross is sensitive to these changes and moves to provide more support for the residents of the community and particularly those still residing in the shelters.  

Support is also offered for the volunteers and staff, as the emotional toll of the disaster starts to take the form of “compassion fatigue,” Clavere said.  

Many volunteers responded to the call for help after just arriving home for a short time from Hurricane Michael and Florence. For some new volunteers, this may be their first disaster response. “The gravity of the experience can be overwhelming,” Clavere added. “We have volunteers with tremendous giving hearts, but they need support too.  We’re here to take care of our clients, but also our staff. We’re here to listen and support.” 

The American Red Cross has trained mental health and spiritual care staff on hand in our shelters for those in need. All services are free and confidential.   

Please reach out for help if you bothered continually by these warning signs: 

Thinking: A person may experience trouble concentrating, a preoccupation with the event, recurring dreams or nightmares. The event may bring back memories of past traumas and events or lead one to question their own spiritual beliefs. They may experience an inability to process the event, confusion, forgetfulness and difficulty problem-solving. 

Physical: One may experience headaches, fatigue, vague physical complaints with no apparent cause or their medical problems may seem to become worse.  Continued sleep disturbances. 

Emotional: There may be intense feelings of sadness or depression, irritability, anger, resentfulness, feelings of hopelessness or despair and feelings of guilt. One may feel unsure about the future and feel fearful or experience anxiety. 

Behavior: There may be changes in appetite, disturbances in sleep patterns, and withdraw from social activities or isolating themselves from friends or family. One may feel weepy and cry easily or become easily startled. Avoiding any reference to the tragedy or repeatedly talking about it and not being able to “turn it off” may happen. There may be increased conflict with family or friends. 

Young children may experience all these reactions and need to be heard when expressing their fears. They too, may withdraw, or act out.  Reassuring them that they are safe and are loved is important.   

For teens, all these feelings may be more intense. They may feel self-conscious about their emotional reactions and may appear indifferent to the event. Teens may want to be with their friends all the time or may withdraw from them and experience changes in their relationships. Performance in school may suffer, but this is usually only temporary.  They may have difficulty sitting still feeling they need to be moving and on the go more.  Teens may feel more intense anger, become highly self-critical or reactive to “authority.”  

All these feelings and reactions to traumatic events are normal. It takes time for these emotions and feelings to get better.  But if they don’t or if they intensify ask for help.  The American Red Cross has trained staff and volunteers on hand to help. 

To reach out for free 24/7 counseling or support, contact the Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990 or text “TalkWithUs’ to 66746.

Photo and story by Michele Maki, American Red Cross volunteer

Published by

American Red Cross California Gold Country Region

The California Gold Country Region serves a twenty-six county territory including Alpine, Amador, Butte, Calaveras, Colusa, Del Norte, El Dorado, Glenn, Humboldt, Lake, Lassen, Mendocino, Modoc, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Sacramento, Shasta, Sierra, Siskiyou, Sutter, Tehama, Trinity, Tuolumne, Yolo, and Yuba counties

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