Aid for 'hidden injuries'

December 30, 1991

Through floods, crashes, tornadoes, fires and every other conceivable form of disaster, the American Red Cross has provided victims with shelter, food, first aid and other physical relief. Now the Central Maryland Red Cross is helping to pioneer another form of aid -- help for the emotional trauma that often afflicts people touched by disasters. These needy people fall into two categories: primary victims, who are directly affected by the disaster, and secondary victims, including families and members of the community in which the disaster occurred as well as the rescue workers who respond to the crisis.

Through an agreement announced earlier this month, the American Psychological Association and the Red Cross are teaming up to staff a new area of volunteer services -- psychologists who will offer their own form of assistance in times of disaster. In Maryland, Red Cross officials have been in conversation with the Maryland Psychological Association for several months, and the MPA will help develop plans for a national disaster response network. In fact, it was a Maryland psychologist, Dr. Jeffrey Mitchell, who devised a debriefing program now used after disasters to prevent later symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder.

Given what we now know about the psychological effects of crisis and stress, emotional aid for people who witness disaster scenes should become a standard part of relief efforts. Maryland is fortunate to have qualified psychologists willing to volunteer their services, as well as Red Cross officials eager to make the most of such a valuable contribution.

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