Local Center Wins Grant For Disaster Distress Helpline

Submitted by Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services

Wellness, Didi HirschDidi Hirsch Mental Health Services’ Suicide Prevention Center, one of only three in the U.S. with 24-hour English- and Spanish-speaking crisis counselors, won a highly competitive federal grant to continue operating the national Disaster Distress Helpline.

The free, confidential helpline provides 24-hour crisis support services for people struggling emotionally because of natural or man-made disasters, including earthquakes, wildfires, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, severe storms, drought and incidents of mass violence. The Dec. 2 shootings in San Bernardino that left 14 people dead and more than 20 injured is an example of a man-made disaster.

“After tragedies like the mass shooting in San Bernardino, survivors, family, friends, witnesses and community members are often traumatized and may show signs of distress such as feeling easily angered, increased anxiety or fearfulness or behavioral changes such as having trouble sleeping or drinking more alcohol than usual,” says Didi Hirsch President/CEO Kita S. Curry, Ph.D. “By calling the helpline, they can get help dealing with their feelings and learn how to use healthy coping skills to avoid developing long-term problems.”

Through the Disaster Distress Helpline, callers anywhere in the U.S. can receive immediate crisis support, information on how to recognize signs of distress, tips for healthy coping and referrals to local resources for additional care and support. A texting service is also available.

Didi Hirsch, which has been answering calls on the Helpline since January 2014, was one of three call centers that won $137,500 grants over a three-year period to continue serving callers through Sept. 31, 2018. Switchboard of Miami and 2-1-1/Lifeline Goodwill of the Finger Lakes in New York also won grants.

As part of the grant, Didi Hirsch will help develop a disaster distress assessment tool similar to the one its Crisis Line counselors use to determine the suicide risk level of callers. Didi Hirsch’s staff and volunteers, who are trained in the use of Psychological First Aid and “Just in Time” Disaster Crisis Counseling, will also conduct emergency drills and help raise awareness about the Disaster Distress Helpline.

Launched in 2012, the Disaster Distress Helpline a national hotline dedicated to providing year-round disaster crisis counseling. It is funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and administered by Link2Health Solutions.

If you, your child, or someone you know is struggling emotionally because of a natural or man-made disaster, call the helpline at 800-985-5990 or send a text with the keywords “TalkWithUs” (or “Hablanos” for Spanish speakers) to short code 66746. Caring crisis counselors who speak English and Spanish are available to help 24 hours a day.

With more than 70 years of experience, Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services provides mental health and substance abuse services in communities where stigma or poverty limits access. From 11 locations throughout Los Angeles and Orange counties and about 100 schools, Didi Hirsch helps more than 90,000 children, families and adults each year.

Founded in 1958, Didi Hirsch’s Suicide Prevention Center was the nation’s first, and is now an international leader in suicide prevention, helping people at risk of suicide, concerned loved ones, and those who have attempted or lost someone to suicide. A founding member of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, Didi Hirsch has one of the network’s busiest crisis lines, and is the back-up for all other crisis lines in California. Learn more at www.didihirsch.org.

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