Emotional Wellness Month: Highlighting Red Cross Disaster Mental Health

By Carol Grinage, volunteer contributor, American Red Cross

When most people think of Red Cross volunteers and volunteering opportunities, they think of the food, shelter, clothing and health service volunteer opportunities provided during emergencies. People don’t realize that there is also a need for volunteers on the Red Cross disaster mental health team to provide psychological first aid in disaster relief areas. Many times recovering emotionally is one of the biggest hurdles after a disaster.

What is a disaster mental health team? This team is a group of Red Cross volunteers who provide disaster relief with other Red Cross volunteers. The disaster mental health team is a team of licensed mental health professionals and school counselors and school psychologists who use their professional skills to help those in need in disaster relief areas.

Why is a disaster mental health team needed? When disaster strikes, victims of these disasters are left with lives in disarray. The may have lost their homes and need shelter. They need food and sometimes medical care. As a result of personal losses, victims of disasters experience psychological stress, and it is not just the disaster victims who experience this stress, the Red Cross volunteers who help in the field also experience psychological stress. And this is where the disaster mental health team steps in to provide psychological first aid.

How do join the disaster mental health team? To become a volunteer on the Red Cross disaster mental health team, interested mental health professionals should visit the Red Cross website.

What should volunteers on the disaster mental health team expect? Volunteers on this team provide non-traditional mental health services in non-traditional settings, such as in shelters and service centers and in the field. They provide psychological first aid, triage, crisis intervention, assessment and basic support. Members of this team do not provide psychotherapy because it is not appropriate.

Why volunteer? Volunteer to give back to the community and give back to others. The Red Cross needs mental health professionals to volunteer to go into disaster relief areas to provide immediate needs for emotional support, food, shelter and other basics.


For more information on recovering emotionally after a disaster, you can read our guides on Helping Children Cope with Disaster and Taking Care of Your Emotional Health.

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