Maui wildfire survivors face major mental health hurdles

KIHEI, Hawaii (AP) – The South Maui Community Park gymnasium shelter is now a safe haven for Ann Landon. She has a crib, and access to her food, water, showers, books, and even puzzles to gather people to spend the evening.

But only a strong gust of wind blew, and she was soon drawn back to the dreaded moment. deadly fire overtook her luxury apartment in Lahaina last week.

“That’s what started it,” she said. “The wind was so strong at the time of that fire.”

Mental Health Professionals Working to Help Survivors on Maui the deadliest fire in the United States for over a century Please understand what they have endured. While many are still in a state of shock, others are beginning to feel overwhelmed with anxiety and post-traumatic stress, which experts say can be long-lasting.

Landon, 70, has sought help twice in recent days to deal with his anxiety. A psychologist she spoke to at her shelter taught her a special breathing technique to slow her heart rate. Another time, a 24/7 crisis nurse at her current shelter comforted her while she cried.

“I could hardly speak to people myself,” she said. “Even when I had an internet connection and people contacted me, I struggled to call them back.”

Candy Olafsson, 65, who slept in the cot next door, said a nurse helped her when she was having a nervous breakdown. Like Landon, Olafsson fled Lahaina for his life. The flames fanned by the wind have burned out Smoke choked the streets in the historic town.of escape traumaon top of my previous experience with depression, became unbearable.

Ann Landon walks the beach with her dog Lavida on Tuesday, August 15, 2023 in Kihei, Hawaii. Landon sought help in coping with anxiety after the devastating wildfires on Maui.  (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Ann Landon in Kihei, Hawaii is walking the beach with her dog, Lavida. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

“Everything came to a head. Finally I lost it,” she said.

Olafsson said a nurse came over and told her to “just watch” until she calmed down. Staring into her nurse’s eyes, she came back to earth.

“These people have pulled me out of the abyss faster than I’ve ever been,” she said.

What they witnessed in their escape will live long in their minds. It is a trauma that cannot be easily resolved and cannot be easily overcome.

In this photo courtesy of Ann Landon, Lavida rests in a cot at a Maui, Hawaii shelter on Thursday, August 10, 2023. Living in Lahaina, Landon was able to escape a deadly fire. The town, as well as the luxury apartment she lived in, burned to the ground. Since the fire, she has been living in an emergency shelter.  (Anne Landon via AP)

In this photo provided by Ann Landon, her beloved dog Lavida rests in a cot at a Maui, Hawaii shelter. (Anne Landon via AP)

“I know some people died in the water when I was in it,” said John Bear, who fled to sea to avoid the blaze. “I have never seen anything like this before. I will never forget it.”

Dana Lucio, a licensed mental health counselor with the Oahu-based group Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition of Hawaii, is one of the experts working with survivors on Maui. . She visits various donation hubs around Lahaina on the west side of the island, sometimes door-to-door, snuggling up to people and crying over their shoulders.

Lucio, a former Marine who served twice in Iraq and once in Afghanistan, said he understands some of their feelings because he has experienced post-traumatic stress himself.

“I can connect with them in a way most people can’t,” she said of those affected by the fires. “The trauma therapy I do is something I learned within myself.”

Global medical aid group Direct Relief is working with groups like Lucio to distribute antidepressants and antipsychotics to people who have fled without prescriptions, pharmacy and clinical officials said. Director Alicia Clark said.

When natural disasters occur, people often forget their medicines during sudden evacuations. Mobile phone tower collapses, power outage Doctors may not be reachable, combined with damage to clinics and lack of transportation, can complicate healthcare access, she said.

Finding the right dose for mental health patients can take weeks, Clark said, and withdrawal symptoms can occur if the drug is stopped abruptly. For this reason, Direct Relief includes mental health medications in most of its emergency and disaster response kits for people who have lost their prescriptions, she added.

Mental health counselor Lucio said he hopes people think of treatment as a long-term one as the initial shock wears off and the horrifying reality sets in.

“This is something their brains are not ready to understand,” she said. “Continued treatment will be required.”


Associated Press videographer Haven Daly of Kihei, Hawaii contributed to this report.

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