Nearly a year after Hurricane Sandy hit, some storm victims are receiving help from mental health professionals to combat post-disaster distress. NY1's Erin Billups filed the following report.
Hurricane Sandy was the icing on a very bitter cake for then 70-year-old Thomas Purdy.
"I went into the hospital for a minor medical procedure and while I was there I got a staph infection in my spine, which paralyzed me,” recalls Purdy.
Shortly after, Sandy hit, flooding Purdy's Far Rockaway home. The waters filled up the basement, spilling onto the first floor.
Purdy was in rehab, unable to do anything. Everything was out of his control.
"I couldn’t get anyone to pump out the water,” he says.
He eventually got help with his home, but there were other issues.
"I knew I wasn’t sleeping well and I knew I needed some help,” says Purdy.
Help came by way of a knock on his door. The Visiting Nurse Service of New York identified him as someone who may be suffering from post-disaster distress.
"They’re having these chronic thoughts that cause sadness, anger, anxiety, guilt or shame that is affecting the way they live their life,” says VNSNY clinical psychologist, Dr. Kerry Symon.
Symon heads up VNSNY's Post Disaster Distress Response Program. The program started six months after Sandy, with funding from the American Red Cross.
"We work on how we can help them reframe their thoughts so that they don’t feel so bad,” Symon says.
Halfway into the program, Purdy had a breakthrough.
"I sort of got an epiphany of, you know, hey this is not my fault,” says Purdy. “I’ve been sleeping better, feeling better.”
So far, 94 New Yorkers are receiving disaster distress counseling through the program. There are sure to be far more who need the help, but may not even realize it.
"In a matter of 10 weeks, we’ve gotten over 142 referrals,” Symon says. “Some people are very hesitant because its mental health, but we are talking about distress that is normal to have."
"I never asked for anybody for anything, but there are times you need help, and you have to let your pride go by and reach out," notes Purdy.
The city also has a similar program, Project Hope, which launched last November. So far, it’s served 200,000 New Yorkers.
For more information, go to VNSNY’s website
For Project Hope, call 1-800-LIFENET or go to the city’s website.