Mental health, therapy in aftermath of deadly Kentucky tornadoes

The material losses have been heavy, but the emotional wounds to families in western Kentucky we are told can be just as devastating.

Louisville, Kentucky — President Joe Biden said it himself during his visits to Mayfield and Dawson Springs in western Kentucky: Hundreds of families are battling trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder after storms devastated their homes and, in some cases, took away loved ones.

Includes children. Behavioral health experts tell WHAS11 that seeking a prompt treatment can make all the difference for many years.

The physical toll has been heavy, but experts say the emotional wounds to families can be just as debilitating.

Stacey Harris, MD, director of inpatient behavioral health services at the University of Louisville Healthpeace, said Pace Hospital.

Harris tells us that PTSD after a storm, including in children, is a widespread problem—in many cases, it goes untreated for years.

“Being kids, they are likely to have a hard time expressing that fear and anxiety to us,” Harris said.

RELATED: On 1 Kentucky Street, a tornado killed 7 children

In the meantime, we also spoke to Storm Corey, a therapist who has been helping the Mayfield families for the past few days. She says the road to mental recovery can be long and boring.

Wasting no time, she posted on Facebook days ago saying she’s available in person to anyone in Mayfield who needs to talk — also adding that she’ll drive to help and listen. Corey, who lives at Fancy Farm, says dozens have taken it within days of her showing.

“My phone was ringing fast,” she said. “Going from door to door, trying to figure out who’s there, and who’s left.”

Now, Corey has already spoken with dozens of survivors, including children.

“This hurricane has devastated the poorest people in our community,” Corey said. “They tell me this is the worst thing they’ve ever been through. They’ve lost everything.”

Few understand this better than Tracy Graves in Jefferson County’s southwest county.

“I cry a lot, I shiver a lot, and I struggle with flashbacks,” Graves said.

To this day, Graves still struggles with trauma decades after the 1974 tornado that destroyed her home in southern Indiana. At just three years old, she and her family had to get out of the rubble.

RELATED: Tornado victims include seven Kentucky family members at Bowling Green

“I grew up screaming while I slept, and I still had fits of screaming in my sleep,” she said.

Her first recommendation for families: Don’t wait, ask for help – because there is access everywhere.

“Please get these kids treated,” Graves said. “They’re going to have things where they’ll show what’s happening.” “It’s going to be hard. It changes who they are.”

Behavioral health experts, such as Harris, say recognize the signs and act accordingly.

“Don’t let the kids start isolating themselves,” Harris said. “We want to talk about this, put it public, and talk about it on their level.” “So they understand that this is very scary, and it’s okay to talk about it.”

For Corey, she says the key is to remember that recovery is a step-by-step process.

“This is something we will recover from for years, if not forever,” Corey said.

Remember that Kentucky State parks provide shelter for storm-affected residents, in many cases with on-site counselors.

The Kentucky Crisis Line is also a way to access a volunteer crisis counselor. Just send “KY” to 741-741.

The Salvation Army is in shelters, providing meals and providing emotional support to survivors. Also, Transcend Counselling Services offers six free sessions to anyone affected by western Kentucky tornadoes.

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