Florida assembles emergency response team devoted to emotional trauma

Reporter: Amy Oshier Writer: Matthew Seaver

Mental health is a real concern for everyone who weathered Hurricane Ian. For the first time in history, the state of Florida has assembled an emergency response team devoted solely to emotional trauma.

In the shadow of rubble sits an oasis devoted to mental health.

“What you have here is an area that we’ve tried to create beautiful imagery to contrast the destruction,” said Amie Leigh, clinical director for the state emergency response team.

This effort is to provide mental health resources to anyone traumatized by the hurricane.

“We have the massage chairs because it’s just inviting to sit down and do a little bit of energy release kind of relaxation techniques. Sometimes we’re just doing counseling sessions. We have little areas set up to just do talk work. We have areas where we’re doing a little bit of art therapy,” said Leigh.

It’s manned by an army of counselors, with temporary locations on Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel, and Pine Island, with tents transformed into spa-like spaces. All are close to the action, close to the ruin, and close to people who are hurting.

“We noticed that there’s just a lot of grief when people come to see the familiar space,” Leigh said.

Treating trauma is a clinical specialty. It involves recognizing the ways our brain responds to a crisis.

“Like the neurobiology of trauma, how the brain is going to shut down, collapse, or otherwise react in ways that we don’t feel like ourselves. It can be that our whole system just isn’t quite processing yet, from the shock. So we help people settle through that,” said Leigh.

Trained trauma counselors traveled here to help. Some worked in the war in Ukraine, many have experience with extreme crises. Their mission is to provide a way for people to process their trauma before it becomes crippling.

“We try to get people to have a really embodied experience of feeling well for a moment. And then we have them notice what that is so they can return to that. But then we also always leave them with a few things that advised for their body and their mind specifically, that they can take home,” said Leigh.

People come as they are when they can. Looking for peace of mind after the storm.

The site on Fort Myers Beach is located at the Beach Baptist Church next to the FEMA trailer.

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