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‘Nebraska Strong’ Counseling Program Launched to Assist Victims of March Flooding

Lincoln – Nebraskans have been slowly cleaning up the damage since historic flooding rolled across areas of the state in March. Recovery has been a slog and, in some cases, has drained emotional and mental reserves. 

Mental health professionals and psychological first aid experts from the University of Nebraska Public Policy Center are addressing flood-related mental health needs through the recently launched Nebraska Strong Recovery Project. 

The effort, which is training outreach counselors across the state, is led by Denise Bulling, a senior research director and licensed mental health practitioner with the Public Policy Center. 

“These counselors are members of the community who work with survivors and organizations to help support individuals and communities as they experience the highs and lows of recovery,” Bulling said. “They talk with survivors, listen to their stories, and help them problem solve and connect them to resources.” 

Bulling said there are phases in disaster recovery – pre-disaster, impact, heroic, honeymoon, disillusionment and reconstruction – that survivors experience. Counselors are trained to spot these phases and help people work through them. 

“Once people understand the phases of disaster, and what the common reactions are, they’re able to put their own reactions in perspective and realize what they’re experiencing is common and that there are ways to cope with the stress of recovery,” Bulling said. ” 

Outreach counselors were identi-fied by the state’s behavioral health regions and are paid through the grant funding. They must be certified in five trainings held throughout the year. Bulling said Public Policy Center staff are also helping communities collect data on the contacts made by the outreach counselors, and have created branding and supplemental materials for the project, to get the word out about available program resources, as well as establish confidence that the program is legitimate. 

Bulling stressed that the program is free and anonymous to anyone affected by the disaster – nearly everyone in the state. While outreach workers are in the communities, the Nebraska Rural Response Hotline, available at 1-800-464-0258, is also available for those seeking help. 

– University of Nebraska-Lincoln

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