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Pediatric Mental Health and Community Wellbeing in the Aftermath of Hawaii Wildfires

[Article provided by the Pediatric Pandemic Network]

An important component of the recovery phase of the Hawaii wildfires will be the mental health and wellbeing of children, the community, and caregivers.

Mental health for kids

With any disaster, children may experience a range of emotions that could deeply impact their mental and behavioral health.

“In addition to ensuring the physical safety of children and families, it is essential to also remember their mental health needs.  Disasters such as wildfires can cause disruption, displacement and fear which can have both a short and long term impact on child and family mental health and wellbeing,” said Dr. Lee Beers, one of the leaders of the Pediatric Pandemic Network Mental and Behavioral Health domain. 

The importance of pediatric-specific response and resources cannot be understated in a natural disaster event such as wildfires. Dr. Merritt “Chip” Schreiber, one of the leaders of the PPN Mental Health domain says, “wildfires, particularly those that involve significant loss of life and destruction create significant mental health risk for parents and children. There is a continuum of risk and resilience that is tied to the family experiences before, during and after the fire.” 

The Pediatric Pandemic Network offers many pediatric-specific response resources including PsySTART®, a rapid, real-time, dual use triage system to assess pediatric needs during disasters, active shooter incidents and everyday traumatic injuries. PsySTART is being offered at no cost to any pediatric-serving entity in Hawaii in response to the wildfires.

Several resources are available to help parents talk with their children and take care of their own needs as well.

Pediatric mental health resources:

Psychological First Aid for Children by Parents/caregivers

Talking with Children About Disasters


National Child Traumatic Stress Network

Community Impact

A community experiencing loss will continue to feel the impacts for months, and even years, to come. 

Schreiber shares the importance of empathizing with friends and neighbors after a disaster. “By expressing sympathy for what our family, friends, and neighbors have experienced in the disaster, we actually help protect and support their recovery,” Schreiber said. 

Connecting with neighbors and community may reduce further disaster exposure, allow for positive coping, and help build resilience in the face of tragedy. 

Community mental health resources:

Listen.Protect.Connect Neighbor to Neighbor, Family to Family Psychological First Aid

Disaster and Trauma Resource Center

Helping Youth After Community Trauma

Preparing Children After a Wildfire Damages Your Community

Mental health for caregivers

Disasters that affect entire communities can inhibit the ability of parents to respond to the needs of their children and families. 

Response to a traumatic event affects how children and families cope in the event of a disaster. It’s important for parents and caregivers to practice good self-care in order to offer the type of support and guidance a family needs to recover emotionally. Here are some helpful tips:

  • Use positive coping mechanisms to reduce your stress levels including meditation and breathing exercises.
  • Talk to someone to help process personal emotions and anxiety about the situation.
  • Reach out to service providers, like the American Red Cross.
  • Review resources provided by trusted sources including the Pediatric Pandemic Network.

It’s important to think clearly and feel calm before discussing the situation with children and family. By reviewing resources and being intentional about the discussion, the conversation will be more reassuring and beneficial to children, families, and surrounding communities. 

Additionally, it’s important for emergency responders and health care workers involved with a disaster to prioritize their own mental health. 

Mental health resources for caregivers:

Taking Care of Yourself during Disasters: Info for Parents & Caregivers

Support for Health Care Professionals

Physician Health and Wellness

Help support wildfire victims

Experiencing a sense of helplessness during and after disasters is a common reaction. Taking action to help those in need may help alleviate those feelings. Be sure to review organizations provided by trusted resources to ensure donations are going to the intended wildfire victims.

How to help

Hawaii Community Foundation

United Way Fire Relief Fund

Maui Food Bank

Maui Humane Society

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