Community Wellness Team Provides Ongoing Post-Disaster Support

Community Wellness Team Provides Ongoing Post-Disaster Support

Recognizing that both individual and community needs would change as we move through new phases of disaster reaction, the Santa Barbara County Department of Behavioral Wellness formed the Community Wellness Team, a collaboration of many local agencies working together to provide mental health, spiritual and emotional wellness resources. With the passing of the 100-day milestone since the 1/9 Debris Flow, the Community Wellness Team reminds the community that this support system is still in place.

“The first 100 days went by more quickly than anyone could imagine,” said Suzanne Grimmesey, MFT, chief quality care and strategy officer for the County’s Department of Behavioral Wellness.  “As we move through new phases of disaster reaction our needs will continue to change. We have a long way to go in our recovery and healing process, but with resilience and the right kind of support we will all heal together,” she added.

Grimmesey points out that the community has moved through different phases of disaster response since the Thomas Fire and 1/9 Debris Flow and to continue the healing process, it is important to know what to expect with each disaster response phase. “Our community is currently in a phase that rallies our community strength and reflects altruism throughout the community – all are finding ways to help and we are seeing an outpouring of support, services, and supplies,” Grimmesey explained and went on to say, “People feel grateful, strong and band together to find their way to help.  There may be a hesitance to express distress, concern or dissatisfaction because we feel we should be grateful for the aid given, or because our loss may be less than another’s loss.”

Following this phase of altruism, there is often what is referred to as a disillusionment phase.  “Feelings turn to resentment when people recognize the gaps between needs and resources,” Grimmesey explained. “There may be disappointment in the disaster response. Also, when outside relief workers leave, community members who have been directly impacted often feel they are ‘on their own’ with a lot of work still left to be done,” she said.

During this phase, communities and individuals realize the limits of disaster assistance. While optimism may turn to discouragement and stress, combined with emotional and physical exhaustion taking a toll, negative reactions, coping or even substance abuse may begin to surface. This is a natural, normal and necessary phase of a community response to disaster and plays a critical role in the healing process.  It is during this phase that people find their individual paths to healing and recovery.

Grimmesey noted that physical symptoms may also surface at this phase, including disturbance in sleep, indigestion and fatigue.  Stress reactions can also show themselves socially in relationships or at work. The increasingly felt gap between need and assistance further promotes the feeling of abandonment. The disillusionment phase may last from months to even longer and can be triggered by events including anniversaries of the event.  Paying attention to surfacing feelings is what aids our healing in this process.

“It’s important to keep in mind that we experienced a collective significant trauma as a community,” Grimmesey advised. “Given the duration and magnitude of our disaster, waves of intense and painful emotions can be expected and are considered normal reactions now. More common reactions include survivor’s guilt, fear of losing control with overwhelming emotions, substance use or the development of mental health conditions such as adjustment disorders, depression, PTSD or anxiety disorders,” she pointed out.

Grimmesey concluded in explaining that following the disillusionment phase, which will ultimately aid our healing, is the phase of reconstruction.  With full awareness of our loss as a community, we strengthen, rebuild, recover and heal as a community and individually.

The Community Wellness Team will continue to provide the resources to help move through the disaster response phases. Read information on the types of services available and how to access these services.

phases of disaster chart

Contact Office of Emergency Management

4408 Cathedral Oaks Rd., Santa Barbara, CA 93110
Phone: 805-681-5526