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Released January 22, 2004

By Angela Cutrer

HATTIESBURG - In a duel effort to provide instruction and to provide itself with more volunteers, the South Central Mississippi Chapter of the American Red Cross is recruiting mental health professionals to attend a Red Cross Disaster Mental Health Service course Jan. 30-31.

The free course is open to licensed mental health professionals and graduate students in health counseling, psychology, psychiatry, social work, marriage and family therapy, and nursing with a psychiatric specialty.

The course will focus on the role of licensed and certified mental health providers as Disaster Mental Health Services workers. It will explore the skills and techniques used within various Red Cross disaster settings.

Course objectives include the following:

  • Identify the range of emotions experienced by clients as well as Red Cross paid and volunteer staff during disasters and Red Cross relief operations.
  • Understand some of the factors that might influence the emotional impact on the community.
  • Describe the role of Red Cross Disaster Mental Health Services and how it supports Red Cross disaster relief operations on major relief operations as well as single-family disasters in local chapters.
  • Describe the various settings in which Disaster Mental Health Services operates.
  • Demonstrate the mental health techniques used by Disaster Mental Health Services.
  • Develop a plan of action for participants' further involvement with the Red Cross.

Hours for the course are from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Jan. 30 and 8 a.m. to noon Jan. 31.

"Most of those signed up already are from Southern Miss," Red Cross Chapter Manager Babs Faulk said, adding that the South Central Mississippi Chapter worked for months to get the only qualified instructor of this particular type of course to Hattiesburg, Dr. Nina Stephenson of Columbus.

"The reason we are offering this course is that the most important service we offer victims of disasters, whether it be fire or hurricane or some other situation, is mental health services," Faulk said. "It's the quietest thing we offer, but it's the most important."

"We provide clothing, housing, food and other support, but we need to attract trained professionals so they can help these victims of disaster cope (with their situation)."

Faulk said when professionals retire, they often become full-time volunteers for the Red Cross, traveling to different areas when mental health coping skills are needed.

"We have a handful now; however, this program can give us new volunteers to call upon. It gives us more people involved because we have to have people on standby 24-7, even though they are rarely called out to help."

Each year the American Red Cross responds to more than 67,000 disasters nationwide. It was chartered by Congress in 1905 to "carry on a system of national and international relief in time of peace and apply the same in mitigating the sufferings caused by pestilence, famine, fire, floods, and other great national calamities, and to devise and carry on measures for preventing the same," according to the organization's Web site. The Red Cross claims more than one million volunteers serving their communities. The charter, aside from giving the American Red Cross the power to respond to disasters, also created "a set of obligations to the nation, disaster victims and those who support the American Red Cross through generous giving."

The South Central Mississippi Chapter serves Forrest, Lamar, Covington, Perry, Stone, Marion, and Jeff Davis counties.

"Our long-term goal is to have some of the Southern Miss Marriage and Family and Nursing faculty staff our disaster services course - people certified as Red Cross instructors integrated into the curriculum so when they graduate, they would have already had the course," Faulk said. "This course is our first step toward that goal."

For more information, call the South Central Mississippi Chapter at (601) 582-8151.


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April 20, 2004 4:09 PM