OHA Focusing on Emotional Health Needs From Disasters

Oregon Health Authority joins the national observation of Preparedness Month during September, with special emphasis on emotional health resources for communities, and building social connections as public health emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic and wildfires continue.

Like many of its emergency management partners, OHA encourages people in Oregon to start or continue their journey toward being prepared for emergencies. OHA’s emphasis is on helping people prepare for their health needs during and after a disaster, including reminding people to review their plans and kits to make sure they address their household’s health and medical needs.

OHA recommends:

  • Families with infants consider essential items like diapers, special items or food.
  • People who rely on regular medical care like dialysis discuss their facilities’ emergency plans.
  • People who use medical devices plan to take them as part of their evacuation kit and know how to replace them if the devices are lost during a disaster.
  • People learn about other ways to prepare for health needs during a disaster at HealthOregon.org/preparedness.

“The anniversary of the devastating wildfires that affected so many Oregonians last year falls during Preparedness Month and on top of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic,” says Steve Allen, OHA’s behavioral health director. “People often experience heightened distress surrounding the anniversary of a disaster event, so it’s a good time to recognize and work to support ourselves, our families and our community’s emotional health needs right along with our other preparedness activities.” 

Allen says Preparedness Month is a good time to empower community members to take action by preparing for the next public health emergency. That preparation can displace fear of disasters.

“Kits and plans are a starting point and what we put in them can save lives and also bring comfort,” says Allen, noting how including a few fun activities or toys can make a difference for kids.  “When it comes to protecting our emotional health, sometimes it’s about having healthy coping strategies.”

Some of these coping strategies include taking care of your body through sleep, exercise and healthy eating; taking lots of breaks to unwind or help strong feelings fade; staying informed while still avoiding exposure to too much news; and reaching out for help when needed.

Children and youth can be especially vulnerable to stress during and after emergencies. Communities can support them by encouraging them to participate in their families’ preparedness activities in age-appropriate ways. After a disaster, adults can help kids by encouraging them to share what they’re thinking, answer their questions, limit their exposure to media coverage of disasters, keep to routines, and get them support when they need it.

Emergency management professionals around the country chose the theme “Honor with Action” for this year’s Preparedness Month. After the wide range of disasters this past year, it fits well with OHA’s emphasis on emotional health preparedness and recovery.

“Our social connections are an important part of what make us resilient,” Allen says. “The pandemic, along with the wildfires disaster, has made it hard to stay connected, but it is more important than ever to re-establish connections or build new ones. Take time to honor the losses of the past year by reaching out to loved ones and neighbors. Also, reach out to survivors and see what help they need.”

If you or someone you know is thinking of harming themselves or needs help because of drug or alcohol use, call Lines for Life which is a 24/7 crisis line at 800-273-8255. Lines for Life also offers specialized support for seniors, military members, youth and those facing racial equity concerns. In addition, it provides specialized services through its COVID-19 & Oregon Wildfire Outreach Program. Find more information at www.linesforlife.org.

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