CONSIDER BECOMING A RED CROSS DISASTER MENTAL HEALTH VOLUNTEER
Monday, June 2, 2014
Posted by: Tara Breitsprecher
A RED CROSS DISASTER MENTAL HEALTH VOLUNTEER
does the Red Cross do and what do we need?
The Red Cross provides shelter,
feeding, health and mental health support to hundreds of thousands of people
affected by hurricanes, floods and fires throughout the country. We are always
looking to recruit new Disaster Mental Health volunteers to provide support
within the local community and on out-of-state relief operations. Keep in mind
that disaster relief needs are fluid and change daily. There may not be
out-of-state deployment openings at the time that you complete the requirements
outlined below and become a Red Cross DMH volunteer. Your participation and
willingness is still quite important and valuable so you will be ready the next
time disaster strikes!
To become a Red Cross Disaster Mental
- All volunteer work with the American Red Cross begins
at the local chapter.
- Enter your zip code under “Find your local Red Cross”
at www.redcross.org to find the
chapter closest to you.
- Register as a volunteer with the chapter.
- Fill out a health status record.
- Complete a background check.
- Take “Disaster Mental Health Fundamentals” training
and “Disaster Services: An Overview.” “DMH Fundamentals” may be offered
as a webinar. “Disaster Services: An Overview,” Module 1, is available
online. Module 2 must be scheduled with your chapter.)
- Fulfill any other training or paperwork that your
chapter may require.
- While you are waiting for a course or to be approved
to deploy, any support you can provide to your local community through
your Red Cross chapter will be of great value. (In special circumstances,
you may be notified of alternative training arrangements).
First Aid is also a required course for DMH
volunteers. You may be able to take it after you have registered as a
volunteer. Discuss this possibility with your chapter.
Be prepared for a waiting period before
Red Cross training is available and before you can provide DMH support. Patience
is an important volunteer characteristic.
What if I’m already a trauma specialist
– why do I need special training?
- The Red Cross has a specific role in disaster response
which is different from the regular work of most mental health professionals.
Training is needed to understand that role.
- In order to minimize frustration, you need to
understand the disaster response system and organization of the American
- Most trauma interventions are not appropriate in the
early aftermath of disaster, but your specialized training can be helpful
in identifying those who are at risk for longer-term complications.
Who is eligible to become a disaster
mental health volunteer with the Red Cross?
- Independently-licensed, master’s level (or higher)
mental health professionals (clinical social worker, psychologist,
professional counselor, marriage and family therapist, psychiatric nurse,
- State-licensed or state-certified school counselors and
- RNs certified for psychiatric and mental health nursing
to include RN-BC, PMHNP-BC or PMHCNS-BC.
- Must be licensed in the state in which you live.
I help even if I’m not licensed/certified?
- There are many other opportunities to serve in mass
care, emergency assistance to families, staffing, logistics, liaison
- Many retirees who do not maintain an active
license/certification switch from disaster mental health to other
- Many graduate students and individuals who are pursuing
licensure are able to register as disaster mental health trainees until
they are licensed/certified.
- All Red Cross volunteers are encouraged to provide
psychological first aid (and receive this and many other free training
After I’m trained how can I help locally?
- Work with your local chapter to provide support to
disaster survivors in your community.
- Prepare Red Cross disaster relief workers for
out-of-state assignments, support their families while they’re gone and
provide post-deployment support to workers returning from national
- Conduct media interviews on behalf of the chapter to
discuss the common reactions individuals experience in the aftermath of
- Assist with other chapter support duties such as
answering phones, preparing meals, filing, etc. While not typically
considered traditional mental health services, helping out with these
activities can help preserve the mental health of other Red Cross workers
can I help outside my local community?
- Give your local Red Cross chapter your dates of
- If assigned, make arrangements to be away from home for
at least 10 days.
- Be prepared for the possibility that out-of-state
deployment opportunities will not be available at the time you approach
your local chapter.
- Be prepared for there to be a waiting period before Red
Cross training is available and before you can deploy out of state.
Why does it take so long to get
deployed? Why is there so much paperwork?
- Essential information and background checks are needed
to ensure the safety and welfare of Red Cross clients, volunteers and
partners. Preparing disaster relief workers to respond in the aftermath of
disaster can be extremely challenging. Chapter staff are often overworked
and are often volunteers themselves.
- The Red Cross places high value in getting the right
people, to the right place, doing the right thing, at the right time. Sometimes
that means taking more time before deployment in order to save time moving
- Local Red Cross chapters are managing large amounts of
requests from the community and from prospective volunteers.
What is different about volunteering
with the Red Cross?
patient and flexible. Situations
in disaster change rapidly and needs are fluid. You may be asked to work
at one site providing one type of service and then be switched to another
site within a short period of time.
co-workers are also our clients. 90%
of Red Cross staff are volunteers just like you. They need your support.
won’t have an office. Most
mental health work done in disaster is done in non-traditional settings,
like shelters and service centers. You may be providing support as you’re
going for a walk or sitting under a tree.
non-traditional mental health services.
- Psychological first aid, triage, crisis intervention, assessment
and basic support.
- Early intervention is primarily focused on assisting
disaster survivors and response workers in meeting their most basic
- Helping people feel safe and secure
- Obtaining food and water
- Addressing physical health needs (e.g., first aid, medications)
- Connecting to family, friends, and other social
- Psychotherapy is not appropriate.
work is very satisfying …. And very frustrating. You’re working with people who have immediate needs
for emotional support, food, shelter and other basics. The most crucial need
is information, which often you don’t have because the situation is
constantly changing. We do the best we can with the limited resources we