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Central Iowa organizations offer mental health resources amid traumatic events

Experts say it's normal to feel stressed after natural disasters and other traumatic events, but there's help available in the metro.

DES MOINES, Iowa — From deadly tornadoes across the state to a shooting outside East High School, Iowans haven't had it easy lately. Experts say it's normal to feel overwhelmed after tragic events like these.

"That's very understandable. It's actually normal," said Karen Hyatt, a disaster behavioral death coordinator for the state of Iowa.

Hyatt said the cumulative effects of recent tragedies can stack on top of more consistent concerns, like the economy or work stress.

"Those are everyday stressors, unfortunately, for a lot of people, and so anything on top of that just shuts people down," Hyatt said.

One group that can have extra trouble carrying that weight—children. Nyla Mowery, a school counselor with Des Moines Public Schools, told Local 5 she's seen more kids struggling with things like anxiety and depression over the past few days.

"I've had students who will tell me, 'sorry for wasting your time,' after a conversation such as suicidal ideation," Mowery said.

Mowery said one of the reasons kids are hit so hard by tragedies is that they often don't have the same healthy ways to cope as adults. They might not know how to ask for help or they can't focus on hobbies with so much else on their mind.

"They don't have as much exposure to coping skills," Mowery said. "And they also are sometimes limited on what they are allowed to use for coping skills."

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If anyone is struggling, no matter the age, there are resources available like Project Recovery Iowa. The Iowa DHS program provides free counseling and other mental health services to disaster victims, including families who lost homes from tornadoes.

Hyatt said if someone is acting outside of their usual routines that can be a tell-tale sign they need help.

"Maybe they feel scattered or they even forget what day it is," she said. "Those things are indicators that there's a lot of stress going on and that a person may need some help to kind of get back to normal."

And if you're wanting to talk to someone you think may be in need of help, Hyatt recommends approaching the conversation gently. Don't start with a negative like "you need help."

"'I care about you.' 'I'd like to hear how your day went.' 'I'm available if you ever need to talk.' You know, that's a good conversation starter," Hyatt said.

If you're working with kids, then be sure to have extra patience. Mowery advises creating an "open line of communication" with children that can encourage them to be vulnerable without fear.

"If they hear something they don't agree with, or that they don't feel comfortable with, they should have the rights to say,' I feel uncomfortable with this topic, can we not talk about it until I'm ready.' And providing that respect to children is extremely important," Mowery said.

Iowans can access free mental health services from Project Recovery Iowa through the following options:

  • Call 800-447-1985 to connect with a counselor specializing in rural issues and agriculture 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
  • Call the Iowa Warm Line, 844-775-9276, to connect with a peer counselor or request to get in touch with a Project Recovery Iowa counselor 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
  • Visit projectrecoveryiowa.org and complete a contact form and a counselor will get back to you.

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