Harvey PTSD more common than acknowledged, counselors warn
A person who dreams of air boats and floodwaters. Children who climb into bed with their parents every time a storm comes. Recovering addicts who’ve suffered a relapse trying to cope with the trauma of Tropical Storm Harvey.
All offer anecdotal evidence of the lingering impact of the devastating flooding event nearly 1½ years ago. To counselors with the Spindletop Center, they suggest that post-traumatic stress disorder among survivors in Southeast Texas is more widespread than people will acknowledge.
The center’s Healing Effectively After Loss, or HEAL, program is expanding its outreach to reach more people with free group counseling meetings across the region. The program, started four months ago, is funded by the Mental and Emotional Healing After Hurricane Harvey grant from the American Red Cross.
“The response has not been as robust as we hoped,” said Dexter Phillip, the program lead for the grant. “So many people are suffering from PTSD, even a year after Harvey, and they may not even know it.”
Phillip said the monthly “Coffee Talks” are a way for certified and licensed professional counselors to identify those who may need more structured help, like one-on-one therapy, and to teach participants how to identify and address the signs of trauma in themselves, their loved ones and others.
“We had someone who was dreaming of flooding in their house and air boats,” Phillip said. “It ties right back to the storm. We hear about kids wanting to sleep with their parents during a storm because it reminds them of the time they lost everything, and that’s what we’re wanting to help them with.”
For many, the stress of Harvey triggered a relapse in drug or alcohol addiction, and Phillip said the program aims to help them as well.
The monthly meetings take place in churches around Southeast Texas and the grant allows Phillip and his team to train church staff how to conduct such meetings once the program officially ends.
The program is scheduled to continue until the end of August, but it might be extended if needed.
“It’s really good for outreach and letting people know these services are out there,” Phillip said.
As part of the grant requirements, Phillip said the center is required to partner with other recipients of the grant to help victims.
“We realize some of these people need more than just emotional help,” Phillip said. “We want to take a holistic approach to healing. Maybe some of their anxiety is because they have repairs they need to do from the storm, so we’ll partner with builders to fix their house.”
He said the referrals go both ways. When a program funded by a Red Cross grant is working with someone, say repairing their home, and they notice the signs of PTSD, they will refer that person to the Spindletop Center.
Phillip attributes the lower-than-expected turnout in part to the stigma associated with seeking treatment for mental health issues. He hopes that changes soon.
“There’s nothing wrong with needing help,” he said. “You go to a mechanic when your car is acting up, because you’re not a professional mechanic. Getting help with you emotional and mental health shouldn’t be any different.”
For those seeking help with issues not related to Harvey, Spindletop has professional counseling available at prices based on income. In some cases treatment is completely free.