Red River Valley flood takes mental toll on residentsby Tim Post, Minnesota Public Radio
The Red River will continue to drop in the coming days, until a second crest in mid-April. That means weary Fargo-Moorhead residents get a break from the stress of flood fighting. But mental health professionals say they fear some people will face new problems as prolonged anxiety begins to wear them down.
Moorhead, Minn. — A lot of people in Fargo-Moorhead are worn out. Nearly two weeks of slinging sandbags has exhausted their bodies. But the Red River flood season doesn't just take a physical toll.
Bob Swenson said, as the river goes down, there is an unwinding from the intense effort.
"It's an interesting feeling. You can sleep well, but after being up for an hour, you feel like taking a nap," Swenson said. "We're kind of in the withdrawal stage, I think, from acute adrenalin overdose."
Swenson said adrenaline kept him going in the frantic effort to build sandbag walls around his south Moorhead home.
Adrenalin has fueled much of Fargo-Moorhead in recent days. But that's going to change, according to Andy McLean, the medical director for North Dakota's Department of Human Services.
"That's kind of over now," McLean said. "And what we're hearing now is more the typical post-disaster sort of issues. The stress, the worry about finances, the clean up."
McLean encourages everyone, especially counselors and clergy, to watch for the warning signs of anxiety and depression among residents of the flooded Red River Valley.
"If you're feeling that your concerns are above and beyond what your buddies are feeling, what you're family is feeling, then seek professional help," McLean said.
The Red Cross in Fargo said it's made 2,200 mental health contacts with local residents. That could include someone venting about their muddy basement, or telling a counselor they're depressed and feeling helpless.
Jessica Kaster is a clinical psychologist in Moorhead. Kaster is part of the Red Cross' disaster mental health response team. She said no matter the crisis, people need to talk about their experience.
"It does not mean that people are crazy, it does not mean anything is wrong, it means you're body is reacting to a pretty unusual set of circumstances," Kaster said.
Kaster said they're especially on the lookout for residents who went through the 1997 Red River flood. People who had trouble recovering from that flood may be more likely to become anxious and depressed this time.
Right now the most common worry she hears is from people who are frustrated because they can't move back into their home. In a few weeks though, she expects flood victims will begin to express more serious concerns.
"I think we will start hearing things about nightmares and we will start hearing things [such as] 'I'm not thinking straight. I'm having trouble making decisions. Why is that? Why is my brain not letting go of this? It's racing around,'" she said.
Kaster said if people don't feel comfortable talking to a counselor about what they're going through, they should talk to a good friend or member of the clergy.
Pastor Nancy Emerson with First Presbyterian Church of Moorhead said sometimes people just need to tell their story.
"The thing that we can offer more than anything else is to listen," Emerson said. "We can hold a hand. We can offer a cup of coffee. And just sitting and being silent with a person is actually a great offer of compassion."
Emerson and mental health professionals in the Fargo-Moorhead area agree this will be a long and drawn out struggle for residents of the Red River Valley.
Another flood crest comes in a couple of weeks. Although it's not expected to be as high as the first, it's just one more thing that will weigh on the minds of flood weary residents.
- Morning Edition, 04/03/2009, 8:45 a.m.