Prevention & Awareness

What To Do When Things Are Not Okay

Sometimes it feels like the hardest part about being a mental health advocate is in responding to a world that is often unpredictable and volatile. How are we meant to shift our messaging to accommodate individuals whose homes are being destroyed by natural disasters, or whose lives are being tested by divisive human action? There are so many resources out there to help in responding to all sorts of disasters, but which ones are the right ones in any given situation and what resources are necessary to take care of the individual that is struggling vs. to take care of the community that is struggling.

It’s okay to not have answers to all of these questions. In fact, the answer changes and evolves all the time based on the people, community, response, and more. A starting Google search yields some pretty overwhelming results and they can be hard to sift through. Sometimes it can be difficult to know what sort of approach to take in addressing these issues: should we focus on providing medical aid or support rebuilding in very tangible ways or is it better to focus our efforts on the emotional, intangible effects that trauma can leave on survivors? We don’t have the perfect answer but this is meant to serve as a starting point for when you’re faced with the challenge of responding appropriately to traumatic events both on the community level and the individual level.

Universal Resources for All Disasters

There are so many different forms that a disaster can take that truly shapes the types of resources that you may try to disperse or access. The resources you may want access to following a natural disaster are significantly different than the resources you would want following incidents of mass violence. That said, there are a few reliable resources that serve wonderfully in response to trauma, regardless of the details of the disaster itself.

  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
    • Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990
    • Disaster Distress Textline: Text “TalkWithUs” to 66746
  • Crisis Textline: Text “Brave” to 741741
  • Department of Veterans’ Affairs
  • FEMA Disaster Relief Assistance:
  • Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Call 1-800-273-8255

Practices to Help Those on Campus

Natural disasters and social upheaval have drastic impacts on college students, even if they may be divorced from an issue. Events can hit just a little bit too close to home, trigger an emotional response from a past trauma, or cause disruption within one’s thought process and lifestyle. When these effects are felt within a community, there are steps that can be taken in order to prioritize helping those on campus in the healing process.

  • Build coalitions with other organizations that have interests in the issue and creating space to talk about it and heal:
    • This includes other student groups such as Student Government, Active Minds, and tailored groups that may be associated with the demographics most affected.
    • This can also include offices within the administration, which could be the Office for Diversity & Inclusion, the Office of International Education, or the Title IX Office, depending on the specifics regarding the trauma at hand.
    • Start working with your Counseling & Psychological services from the beginning to find out about additional resources they’re making available and how they would like you to make referrals or promote their services.
  • Awareness & Solidarity Events:

Organize an event around which prominent members of the campus community and the administration can come together, recognize the harm the situation has caused, and publicly have the campus community join together in solidarity of healing. It may serve to hold this event at a significant or important location on campus to add to the emphasis of campus-wide recognition and healing.

Individual Resources and Self-Care Tips

  • Recognize that it is valid for you to be experiencing trauma from an event even if you were not present or directly touched. Disaster touches everyone and it is okay to be reeling after such an event.
  • Maintain a consistent sleep schedule and stick to your usual routines as much as possible
  • Reach out to your support system and seek out a professional to discuss the effects a trauma may be having for you
  • Allow yourself to take a step back from social media and media consumption
  • Prioritize your own well being and expose yourself to the things that help your own mental wellbeing
    • There is a lot that can fall under this category- watching your favorite movie on Netflix, petting any dog you see, letting yourself take a nap and relax, try a stress-relieving activity like yoga or general exercise routines, or engaging with spiritual resources if you are a spiritual individual.

Resources to Help the Given Cause

After a disaster, it is a natural response to need to do something in response. There are several ways to support victims of a disaster while also being considerate of how people may be struggling with it locally. Many groups often like to coordinate efforts to do what they can to help in the ways that are the most necessary. While this does not automatically heal the trauma experienced, the help given to those who are still struggling can certainly go a long way in the recovery process.

  • Reach out to your local Red Cross to see if there is a need to donate blood or host a blood drive in response
  • Hold Donation Drives for the victims of disasters, which can be tailored to the specific trauma
    • Food, coats & winter clothing, children’s clothing, or school supplies are some examples of potential drives
  • Work with your student government to collect financial donations and give a monetary gift on behalf of the student body.

Further Reading


Featured Image displays students at the University of Central Florida engaging in a “Free Hugs” community solidarity campaign following the 2016 Pulse Nightclub Shooting in Orlando, Florida.