Returning Home After Disaster Relief Work
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
Increasing attention is being paid to the challenges that recovery workers face as they perform their work and then return to their families and pre-deployment duties. As a family member of an emergency or disaster response worker, you have faced your own challenges in keeping your family functioning while a loved one is away. This brochure contains useful information to help you reunite with a deployed family member.
Reunions following deployment are usually eagerly anticipated by all. However, they are sometimes more complicated than we may think. When welcoming a loved one who is returning from disaster relief work, keep the following in mind:
In the disaster environment, it is common to talk about things that may be upsetting to people not directly involved (e.g., dead bodies, graphic images). Extreme care should be taken by returning family members (monitored by loved ones) to ensure that relating experiences does not unnecessarily upset or traumatize others. This is especially important in discussing the experience with, or in the presence of, children.
Before most recovery workers are ready to return to normal work and family duties, it is important to meet some basic needs that are often neglected during disaster deployment. These include the following:
Following is a list that you may find helpful in identifying signs of stress in your family or returning loved one, including:
Leaving home once again and returning to the site of a disaster or other location is stressful for everybody. It is a sad time, and it is natural to feel sad, even to cry. You have drawn close once again and begun to establish routines. Your loved one may psychologically and/or emotionally distance himself/herself in preparation for leaving. Try to understand if this happens.
At the time of departure, it is important that you let your loved one know how proud you are of their sacrifice, and their commitment to their job and country. Expressing pride while saying goodbye is positive, and will strengthen you, your children and other family members, and the departing family member.
Remember, pre- or post-deployment stress is a normal reaction to abnormal situations like disasters. If you or a deployed family member experiences the following signs of persistent or severe stress, seek help from a licensed mental health professional.
If you feel you need additional information, you may find this list of resources to be helpful.
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