When we experience a disaster, people react with increased anxiety, worry and anger. With community and family support, most of us bounce back. Some of us, however, may need extra assistance to cope with unfolding events and uncertainties. Everyone, even the people that others look up to for guidance and assistance, is entitled to their feelings and deserves support throughout the recovery process.
If you or someone in your care needs additional assistance recovering emotionally from the fires, please access the following free services:
Disaster Distress Helpline is available 24-7
If you are experiencing emotional distress, perhaps because of recent red flag warnings or smoke from fires outside Sonoma County, a national Disaster Distress Helpline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The Disaster Distress Helpline, 1-800-985-5990, is a hotline dedicated to providing immediate crisis counseling for people who are experiencing emotional distress related to any natural or human-caused disaster.
This toll-free, multilingual, and confidential crisis support service is available to all residents in the United States and its territories. Stress, anxiety, and other depression-like symptoms are common reactions after a disaster.
Call 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746 to connect with a trained crisis counselor.
Spanish speakers can call 1-800-985-5990 and press "2" or text Hablanos to 66746
The deaf or hard of hearing can text TalkWithUs to 66746.
Use your preferred relay service to call the Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990
The hotline is provided by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. SAMHSA is the agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that leads public health efforts to advance the behavioral health of the nation
For more information, go to www.samhsa.gov/find-help/disaster-distress-helpline
Forget Me Not Farm's Therapeutic Farm Available to Fire Survivors
Therapeutic Farm, Forget Me Not Farm’s flagship program, nurtures relationships between children, animals and gardens. Since its inception in 1992, Forget Me Not Farm has helped thousands of at-risk children and youth break the cycle of abuse.
A program of the Sonoma Humane Society, the Farm offers animal-assisted and horticultural therapeutic activities that provide a haven for children, animals, and plants to interact, bond, learn, and heal. The farm serves a variety of social service agencies that bring groups of children to the farm weekly for hour-long sessions.
The Farm would like to offer to fire impacted residents of Sonoma County with children the opportunity to come visit the animals at Forget Me Not Farm. Our barn of rescued farm animals have extensive experience working with all children, including children coping with emotionally challenging times. Our weekly programming accommodates children ages 3-18 to meet and work with the animals and we’d like to extend that same parameter to the visiting families. Children under the age of 3 are welcome but will need to stay with their parent(s). The Farm would like to start small in order to make the visits impactful, and restorative. Keeping that in mind, Farm staff thinks a sign up of three to five families seems appropriate and manageable. The Farm will provide staff to help manage the activities on site.
This is not a drop-in service. The program will be offered Wednesdays from 5-6pm through the summer. If interested, e-mail Nate@forgetmenotfarm.org to inquire about reserving a day.
California HOPE Program Provides Crisis Counselors
Sonoma County launched the California HOPE program to provide outreach and counseling to those emotionally impacted by the Sonoma Complex Fires in October 2017. California HOPE is a federally funded program that can send crisis counselors to meet people wherever they are (at home, school, business, etc.) to provide crisis counseling, resource navigation, and disaster recovery education.
California Hope is funded by the Federal Emergency and Management Agency (FEMA) and is administered by the California State Mental Health Authority (CMHA) in conjunction with the Sonoma County Department of Health Services: Behavioral Health Division.
California HOPE counselors specialize in helping survivors understand their current reactions, reduce stress, receive emotional support, prioritize needs and solve problems, choose coping strategies, and connect with people and agencies who can help.
If you would like free assistance from this program, please contact them as follows:
Adults age 50 or older: (707) 608-8804
Santa Rosa: (707) 608-8805
North County: (707) 608-8807
Sonoma Valley: (707) 608-8806
South County: (707) 608-8806
West County: (707) 608-8807
Below are brochures on available California HOPE services and tips on building resilience:
Sonoma County Mental Health Resource Guide
If you are in need of counseling, here is a list of licensed therapists offering 3-5 hours of free service to fire victims.
Wildfire Disaster Drop-in Support Group
St. Joseph Health Hospice Services provides an ongoing free drop-in support group for anyone who directly experienced negative consequences from the October 2017 wildfires in Sonoma County is available at Memorial Hospice in Santa Rosa. Participants will find emotional support, get help in acknowledging long-term grief and loss and will gain resources and tools for coping in a crisis.
The sessions will be held the first and third Fridays from 4pm-5pm through May and the first Friday of each month from June through October 2018. Pre-registration is not required.
The sessions will be at Memorial Hospice, 439 College Avenue in Santa Rosa.
Additional grief support is available to those who have experienced the death of someone in their lives.
For more information, call 707-568-1094, go to www.sonomacountyhospice.org or use this flyer
Free Fire Resiliency Brown Bag Sessions through June 27
Each Wednesday from May 2 to June 27, a facilitator will present a resiliency topic ranging from self care to coping tools to other rebuilding resources. This free drop-in group is designed for anyone impacted by the October wildfires. Come together to learn, share resources and compare recovery notes and strategies.
The sessions will be from 12pm-12:30pm at Jewish Family and Children's Services at 1360 N. Dutton Ave., Suite C in Santa Rosa. No RSVP is required.
If you have questions about this series, contact Debbie Ricci at Debrar@jfcs.org or 707-303-1501.
When we experience a disaster or other stressful life event, we can have a variety of reactions, all of which can be common responses to difficult situations.
These reactions can include:
- Feeling physically and mentally drained
- Having difficulty making decisions or staying focused on topics
- Becoming easily frustrated on a more frequent basis
- Arguing more with family and friends
- Feeling tired, sad, numb, lonely or worried
- Experiencing changes in appetite or sleep patterns
Most of these reactions are temporary and will go away over time. Try to accept whatever reactions you may have. Look for ways to take one step at a time and focus on taking care of your disaster-related needs and those of your family.
Keep a particularly close eye on the children in your family. When disaster strikes, a child's view of the world as a safe and predictable place is temporarily lost. Children of different ages react in different ways to trauma, but how parents and other adults react following any traumatic event can help children recover more quickly and more completely.
Struggling in the aftermath of the fires? Free counseling is available
Counselors are available to provide care for grief, depression, anxiety and trauma at no cost to those affected by the October 2017 wildfires. For an appointment, call the Lomi Psychotherapy Clinic at 707-579-0465 ext 227. For more information, use this link.
Recovery Takes Time
Getting ourselves and our lives back in a routine that is comfortable for us takes time.
- Take care of your safety. Find a safe place to stay and make sure your physical health needs and those of your family are addressed. Seek medical attention if necessary.
- Limit your exposure to the sights and sounds of disaster, especially on television, the radio and in the newspapers.
- Eat healthy. During times of stress, it is important that you maintain a balanced diet and drink plenty of water.
- Get some rest. With so much to do, it may be difficult to have enough time to rest or get adequate sleep. Giving your body and mind a break can boost your ability to cope with the stress you may be experiencing.
- Stay connected with family and friends. Giving and getting support is one of the most important things you can do. Try to do something as a family that you have all enjoyed in the past.
- Be patient with yourself and with those around you. Recognize that everyone is stressed and may need some time to put their feelings and thoughts in order. That includes you!
- Set priorities. Tackle tasks in small steps.
- Gather information about assistance and resources that will help you and your family members meet your disaster-related needs.
- Stay positive. Remind yourself of how you’ve successfully gotten through difficult times in the past. Reach out when you need support, and help others when they need it.
When the Challenges Are Ongoing
Many people have experience coping with stressful life events and typically feel better after a few days. Others find that their stress does not go away as quickly as they would like and it influences their relationships with their family, friends and others.
If you find yourself or a loved one experiencing some of the feelings and reactions listed below for two weeks or longer, this may be a sign that you need to reach out for additional assistance.
- Crying spells or bursts of anger
- Difficulty eating
- Difficulty sleeping
- Losing interest in things
- Increased physical symptoms sucha as headaches or stomachaches
- Feeling guilty, helpless or hopeless
- Avoiding family and friends
American Red Cross Resources and Guides
Guides are available in other languages on the American Red Cross website.
UC Davis researching health impacts of fires, seeks participants
Researchers from the Environmental Health Sciences Center at UC Davis are working with Northern California communities to study the impact smoke and burned debris have had on survivors of the catastrophic fires that swept through Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino, Lake and other counties in October 2017. These fires were unique because they burned manmade structures, which scientists believe could impact the health of people differently than “natural” wildfires that burn trees, grass, and other plants. “We know what [natural] wildfire smoke is composed of, but we have no idea what will be in this. We expect it to be very different,” says Keith Bein, a scientist at the UC Davis Air Quality Research Center.
For more information or to take the survey, use this link.