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Terrorism and Mental Health

No one in America remains untouched by the recent acts of terrorism upon New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania. And the facts are:

There are two types of disaster trauma—individual and community. September 11, 2001 was both.

•“Stress and grief reactions are normal responses to an abnormal situation,” says Betsy Schwartz, executive director of the Mental Health Association (MHA) of Greater Houston.

•People generally tend to pull together and function during and after a disaster.
From history we learn that characteristic reactions to such trauma are such things as:
•Depression
•Fears, anxieties, irritability
•Confusion, crying, scream ing
•Fear of crowds and/or reluc tance to leave home
•Problems going to sleep
•Sensitivity to loud noises
•Alcohol and other drug use
•Fear of darkness or animals
•Disobedience, behavioral problems and poor school performance in children

We can help each other deal with the mental health aspects of terrorism by doing several things, she says:

•Provide lots of reassurance to help kids through trauma
•Answer their questions honestly but briefly.
•Try to maintain-or re-establish-a normal household.
•Resume regular social and recreational activities when appropriate
•Acknowledge that you may have reactions to the natural disaster and take appropriate steps to foster your own emotional and physical healing.

When should you refer a person for mental health services?

•If a person is disoriented-dazed, has memory loss, can’t remember events or understand what is happening
•If a person hears voices or sees visions, has delusional thinking or pressured speech
•If a person is unable to care for self such as taking a bath, eating, changing clothes
•If the person has suicidal or homicidal thoughts or plans
•Domestic violence, child or elder abuse
•Alcohol or drug abuse

The Mental Health Association of Greater Houston (MHA Houston), affiliated with the Mental Health Association in Texas and the National Mental Health Association, is a non-profit, united Way agency devoted to promoting mental health, improving mental health services and eliminating the stigma of mental illness. For information and referral call 713-522-5161 or log on to www.mhahouston.org.