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The Overlooked Component of Recovery: Mental Health After Juneau’s August Flood


Sep 7, 2023

In August 2023, Molly Barnes experienced one of the worst days of her life when her condo building was affected by a glacial outburst flood. Videos of the destruction went viral on the internet, but Barnes couldn’t bring herself to watch them. A month later, she is still deeply affected by the loss and struggles with the surreal and heartbreaking reality. Margaret Wellberg, a Red Cross therapist, explains that the grief experienced after a disaster can last for weeks, months, or even years, with feelings of guilt, anger, and hopelessness being overwhelming.

Wellberg, who has provided therapy after various natural disasters, emphasizes the neglected importance of navigating heavy emotions during the recovery process. The immediate focus is often on physical response and it becomes difficult to prioritize self-care. Barnes and her displaced neighbors face challenges in financing repairs and finding new places to live. Alongside these difficulties, they are also dealing with fear, shock, and grief from losing their homes. The Red Cross offers free counseling services immediately after a disaster, which Wellberg believes is crucial in preparing for long-term recovery.

Kris Dorsey, Barnes’ downstairs neighbor, sought mental health care soon after the flood. She found it hard to function and experienced severe mental health issues that are often unrecognized or underestimated by others. Her home has become unrecognizable, and the loss has left her disoriented. Dorsey’s grief comes in waves, and she has spent sleepless nights while staying with her mother in town.

Dorsey mentions a surprising response she has been experiencing since the flood: a tendency to catastrophize and notice potential hazards in her surroundings. She has found some relief through therapy with the Red Cross and through activities like swimming and talking to friends and neighbors. However, coping with the loss of her home remains difficult. Unfortunately, additional therapy through the Red Cross is not an option, as the organization has concluded its disaster response in Juneau.

Barnes also struggles with prioritizing her mental health, even before the flood. Losing her home has brought emotional vulnerability, which has been an adjustment for her. Despite wanting more therapy, she finds it challenging to find the time. Both she and her husband work as full-time teachers, and the school year began shortly after the flood occurred.

By Editor

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