Hurricane Sandy's Damage to Mental Health Comes to Light

Hurricane Sandy's Damage to Mental Health Comes to Light

Rutgers will identify people from hardest hit areas who need treatment and develop a network of clinicians to treat them
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The world saw the powerful images of the physical damage Superstorm Sandy inflicted upon New Jersey. Much more difficult to assess is the human suffering.

Rutgers’ University Behavioral Health Care (UBHC) has received $5 million in federal funding to identify individuals from areas within New Jersey hardest by Sandy who are in need of treatment for behavioral health illnesses, including problems with substance use.

The funds will allow UBHC to develop a network of clinicians, refer eligible individuals to those clinicians and pay them for the cost of their care, and hire 10 staff members to administer the program.

National Guard assists people impacted by Hurricane Sandy
Rutgers UBHC will identify people living in areas hardest hit by Hurricane Sandy who are in need of treatment for behavioral health illnesses.
Photo: New York National Guard
As part of the effort to identify individuals eligible for mental health care, the Department of Human Services and UBHC will implement a campaign to raise awareness and encourage people to contact UBHC.

“People may not know that professionals nearby are available to assist them,” said Chris Kosseff, president and chief executive officer of UBHC. “Those who are suffering need to know that quality professionals are nearby and available.”

Because of the silent nature of the pain and the stigma that often discourages people to seek mental health services, Kosseff says it is difficult to estimate how many people might need or seek such care. He anticipates that most cases identified are likely to involve depression or anxiety.

“Obviously, many people have been through terrible episodes in attempting to reestablish some sense of normalcy after Sandy,” Kosseff said. “Sandy may have triggered anxiety or depressive symptoms or, for those suffering before the storm, may have contributed to their condition becoming worse. We want to find them and direct them to the professionals we think can help them.”

A recent report from the School of Public Affairs and Administration at Rutgers-Newark found that Sandy and its aftermath cost New Jersey more than $37.1 billion. The report also stated that the damage was far more widespread than has been understood to date, stretching beyond the coast communities and disproportionately affecting low- and moderate-income families.

“Because of the widespread destruction Sandy caused, the scope of human pain we are likely to find is unpredictable,” Kosseff said. “But it’s likely to be significant. Losses of a less serious nature can trigger serious issues benefiting from the intervention of mental health professionals.”

To qualify for a referral, individuals must have lived in one of the nine counties hit hardest by Sandy at the time of the storm: Atlantic, Bergen, Cape May, Essex, Hudson, Middlesex, Monmouth, Union and Ocean Counties. Eligible individuals may call 1-866-202-HELP to be referred to a clinician. At that point, a determination will be made whether an individual’s case requires immediate attention or can be scheduled for an appointment in the near future.

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