UM Disaster Mental Health Expert Offers Advice for Hurricane Survivors

Department of Social Work offers tips to those affected by recent storms

UM students help collect nonperishable foods as part of a campus drive. Getting involved in volunteer activities or events that help others is an excellent way to deal with the stress from a major disaster, mental health experts advise. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – With 1,409 students from Texas and 513 from Florida enrolled this fall, the University of Mississippi is the home away from home for many residents of the two states that sustained the greatest impact from hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

Many students’ and even some faculty members’ homes and property were damaged or destroyed while they watched the storm’s news coverage and waited to hear from their family members back home.

“(It was) probably the worst week in my life,” said adjunct legal studies professor George Ackerman, who was at his home in Del Ray Beach, Florida, when Hurricane Irma made landfall. “We are perfect today and everyone accounted for here, but it was very bad.

“Ninety degree temperatures in our home, and the baby and kids as well as pets were doing very bad. I slept on the floor, and we jumped staying from house to house as there were no hotels. Finally, we got one after four days. The hurricane itself was frightening to everyone, but we move forward.”

While managing loss of property is often top of mind after a natural disaster, managing the psychological effects of an event of this magnitude can be an even more critical part of storm recovery.

The psychological impact for individuals who are directly impacted by disaster – those who have lost property or a loved one, or who have been injured or dislocated – puts them at risk for developing long-term psychosocial conditions, said Daphne Cain, disaster mental health expert and chair of the UM Department of Social Work.

“Post-disaster reactions and behaviors may appear to be symptoms of psychological distress,” Cain said. However, many of these reactions are normal for people responding to traumatic situations.

“Studies show some common reactions include symptoms of shock, exhaustion, disorientation, irrationality, racing thoughts, fear and anxiety, or uncontrollable emotions,” said Cain, citing a 2013 study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Cain offered five important tips for students affected by the storms:

– Talk about it. Connect with social support systems, including family, friends, teachers and residence hall advisers. Visit the Student Health CenterPsychological Services Center or the Counseling Center.

First-year biology major Maggie Coulter,of Houston, Texas, puts effort into staying connected with her family in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

“I call and check on my parents and grandmother every day,” said Coulter, whose family continues to work on repairing her grandmother’s home, which suffered substantial water damage from the storm.

– Take care and calm yourself. Avoid using alcohol, drugs and tobacco, and engage in healthy coping, including yoga, stretching, walking and deep breathing. Get the rest you need, drink plenty of water for hydration and eat healthy meals and snacks.

– Turn off social media, television and radio. Listening to and viewing coverage of the disaster can be traumatizing or re-traumatizing. Take a break from listening to and viewing coverage.

– Get back to your daily routines. Returning to your normal routine, including going to class, meeting deadlines, engaging with friends and with usual activities, are good ways to regain a sense of control and can help those affected feel less anxious.

– Get involved. You are not alone. Engage in positive activities such as discussion groups and volunteering activities that can help to create a sense of meaning and connectedness. Get involved in university-related volunteer opportunities.

The Department of Social Work’s mission is to prepare competent and ethical social workers, for scientific inquiry and practice, who are leaders committed to social and economic justice, diversity and the enrichment of the quality of life at every level of society. For more information about social work at Ole Miss, email socialwork@olemiss.edu.

Autism Expert Headlines UM Conference

Annual Ole Miss Fall Institute provides continuing education and networking opportunities

Jessica Dykstra Steinbrenner

OXFORD, Miss. – Each year, one of every 68 children will be diagnosed with autism, according to a 2016 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Identification and treatment of autism is vital, according to Lisa Ivy, a speech-language pathologist and clinical instructor in University of Mississippi Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders.

Identifying the core features of Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD, will be the first learning objective that autism expert and certified speech-language pathologist Jessica Dykstra Steinbrenner will discuss at the 16th annual Ole Miss Fall Institute, set for Sept. 14-15 at The Inn at Ole Miss

“Evidence-Based Practice in School-Based Settings for Children and Adolescents on the Autism Spectrum” is the topic for this year’s institute.

“We selected the topic of autism based upon participant requests from our 2016 conference,” Ivy said. “As children with autism are identified earlier, school-based speech-language pathologists and teachers need the most updated diagnostic and treatment resources available.” ​

The department and the campus chapter of the National Student Speech Language Hearing Association host the institute each year to offer an opportunity for speech-language pathologists to earn continuing education units and learn more about developments in their field. This student-planned event gives students a chance to develop professional and organizational leadership skills under the mentorship of Ivy and Brad Crowe, co-director of the UM Speech and Hearing Clinic and clinical instructor.

This year’s topic will benefit not only speech-language pathologists, but also classroom teachers, special education teachers, school administrators and parents, Ivy said.

Steinbrenner will discuss ASD across the school years and different learning styles of those with the disorder. She will present the latest information about assessments to diagnose and evaluate needs, choosing target goals, selecting strategies and interventions, and data-based decision making.

She also will address and provide evidence-based practice guides for communication, social skills, engagement and play. She plans to close with a discussion on general tips and strategies and on challenging behavior.

Steinbrenner is a research scientist at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina. With research interests in school-based interventions for individuals with ASD, Steinbrenner is working for the Center on Secondary Education for Students with ASD to develop a comprehensive intervention program for high school students.

She has worked as a speech-language pathologist with elementary and middle school children with ASD and other developmental disabilities. She has publications in numerous professional journals, as well as two textbook chapters.

“As a nationally recognized scholar, Dr. Steinbrenner aligns well with the applied-science focus on the importance of having evidenced-based research direct clinical practice protocols,” said Teresa Carithers, interim dean of the UM School of Applied Sciences.

Online registration for the event is encouraged, as seating will be limited. The cost of the two-day event is $260 if paid before Sept. 13, and $275 for on-site registration. A link to the secure payment site is available at http://csd.olemiss.edu/.

In conjunction with the institute, the Ole Miss chapter of the National Student Speech Language Hearing Association will host a 5-K run benefitting the Sarah Wheat Voice Lab. The facility, used for evaluation, treatment and rehabilitation of individuals with voice disorders, is named after Sarah Wheat, a gifted graduate student in communication sciences and disorders who died in 2012.

Registration is $25 for timed runners and $15 for non-timed runners or walkers. To register, visit https://www.racesonline.com/events/annual-nsslha-5k.

Anyone wanting to make donations in lieu of race participation can write a check payable to the Sarah Wheat Voice Laboratory Fund and mail to 100 George Hall; 325 Rebel Drive; University, MS 38677.

For more information about the Ole Miss Fall Institute, email olemissfallinstitute@gmail.com.