Mental health experts coming to Kerr McGee

Red Cross partners with Kern County Behavioral Health and Recovery Services to help residents experiencing trauma-induced stress and anxiety

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Mental health experts coming to Kerr McGeeAs the aftershocks of last week’s historic 6.4- and 7.1-magnitude earthquakes begin to subside, the Red Cross is helping connect residents coping with lingering stress and anxiety with the help they need.

Staff from the Kern County Behavioral Health and Recovery Services are scheduled to arrive at the Kerr McGee Center-based shelter at 3:30 p.m. today, July 8, to start seeing patients who have sought out counseling services.

“Let’s start with what we can do for you,” said Dave Wagner, public information officer with the Red Cross.

In addition to offering shelter-seekers food, cots and hot showers, Red Cross staff open a case file on each individual who comes through their doors.

“A lot of times, people don’t recognize when they are in need of mental health services,” said Wagner. “We think of ourselves as tough human beings who are more resilient than maybe we really are.”

Someone who experiences the level of trauma induced during an earthquake can be conditioned to that stress to the point where they don’t recognize the symptoms of irritability, sleep-depravation, loss of appetite or anxiety.

The evidence of this distress can be seen from residents of Ridgecrest, Trona and the surrounding areas on virtually ever sphere of social media.

Bethany Smosna, a teacher and mentor with Sierra Sands School District, and a near-life-long resident of Ridgecrest, was among those caught off guard by the impact of the earthquakes.

“I have not experienced a tornado or a hurricane or even a significant flood, so I am not qualified to say that enduring one natural disaster is easier or worse than another,” wrote Smosna. “But I can speak to how the unpredictability of earthquakes, and the immediacy of large shaking events, fills you with a fear that never really leaves you.”

Even veterans of California’s renowned seismological events have expressed that recent events cannot be compared to the familiar shiftings of our nearby tectonic plates.

“We are all terrified — truly terrified — of experiencing an earthquake that is massive precisely BECAUSE smaller ones happen all the time,” said Smosna. “We know that another earthquake will come, but we have no idea when, or how big, or how many.”

Unlike hurricanes or fires, earthquakes are nearly impossible to predict (at least with any demonstrable level of accuracy).

“Once the storms are over, while we may certainly experience great loss, we know they are over … earthquakes are never really over.”

“With hurricanes and fires you can get out of the way,” agreed Wagner. “You never really know when the next earthquake is coming.”

Smosna noted that there appears to also by a psychological element of earthquakes that are beyond an individual’s ability to grapple with emotionally.

“How many literary characters rejoiced when they finally got their feet on ‘solid ground?’ … earthquakes rock the very ground that we rely on to be solid.”

“Anyone who comes to us in need, we sit them down, do an intake, and allow someone with professional training to discern the kind of help they need,” said Wagner.

Also available at the Red Cross are partners offering spiritual counseling to those who request it.

Among these are the Salvation Army representatives, who are also cooking up food for the shelter alongside the World Central Kitchen team.

The Kern County-based Victim Chaplain Association also brought from Bakersfield a host of volunteer counselors with expertise in grief and trauma services.

“We are embedded in the trauma unit of Kern Medical Center,” said Steve Truitt. “So our main mission is counseling people who are experiencing the worst day of their lives.”

Wagner noted that while there may be more people impacted by a metropolitan event, “having a fewer number of individuals impacted does not mean they are suffering any less. If your home is falling down after a 6.4 or a 7.1, that’s devastating.

“I see that people are trying to be strong, and may be reluctant to ask for help. That does not necessarily mean they don’t need help.”

Wagner said that those who don’t need shelter, but are too frazzled to walk back into their homes for fear of aftershocks, are welcome at the Red Cross shelter.

“There are basically three levels of what the Red Cross provides — we prepare, respond and recover.”

Those who are looking at how to prepare for the next incident can go to redcross.org/earthquake to find out how to assemble a “go kit” and get information on how to put together a plan for the families or their work teams.

As responders, the Red Cross is the only congressionally sanctioned organization, in partnership with FEMA, to provide food and shelter for disaster victims.

“And then the recovery starts,” he said. After individuals have their immediate needs met, Red Cross workers help residents find the continuing services they need to return to their previous lives.

“We won’t close the shelter until everybody here is in a good situation,” said Wagner.

Story First Published: 2019-07-07