The only way to make sense of the tragedy this week at Mount Carmel is to talk about it, local psychologist Eleanor R. Flynn said Thursday.
That’s exactly what she’s hoping people in the community will do.
At the request of the American Red Cross, Flynn and several other mental health associates have met for more than a month to devise ways of helping people deal with a disaster.
Together they make up the Heart of Texas Crisis support Team, a group of therapists willing to donate their time at no charge to help people hit hard by tragedies like the one at Mount Carmel.
The mental health associates want to help federal agents who were involved in the ordeal, media representatives who followed the standoff and witnessed the fiery blaze, firefighters who were at the scene but unable to save lives, Texas Rangers who are searching through the rubble for evidence, and family members and close friends of the people who lived in the compound.
“The key is to deal with any feelings that you’re having at the time of a disaster, rather than put it off,” Flynn said. “When you do, you’re preventing an enormous amount of problems that would develop down the road.”
Flynn said almost everyone has had some kind of reaction to the sudden uncontrollable blaze that destroyed the compound and 86 of its residents.
“If someone’s having flashbacks of the fire, nightmares or trouble sleeping, these are all very normal reactions to abnormal events like this one,” Flynn said. “They’re not crazy. Those feelings of shock, anger, helplessness and numbness are to be expected.”
If the feelings can be resolved, they won’t come back later in a more destructive form, said Vivian Stidvent, a therapist at the Texas Department of Mental Health-Mental Retardation.
“Pretending that the feelings are not there doesn’t help matters,” Stidvent said. “They will either come out or be acted out eventually. There has to be a lot of anger in what happened.”
Anyone interested in receiving the services may call the Red Cross at 776-8362. Both women emphasized that calling the number does not indicate a person is crazy or has some type of problem.
“Professional guidance is really necessary,” Flynn said. “It helps tremendously to talk about what you’ve been through and discuss any images that may be sticking with you.”
Added Stidvent: “The normal coping mechanisms don’t work in cases like this one because the situation is so abnormal and monstrous.”
One help group in particular, the critical incident debriefing, gathers together several team members of a certain job and talks to them about coping skills and the best way to handle their particular crisis.
“The hardest thing for people to understand is how the mothers could allow their children to be burned,” Flynn said. “All these things need to be talked about. It takes a good deal of courage to ask for help, but in this case it’s certainly worth everyone’s while to make that effort.”
The crisis team was not established just because of the Mount Carmel tragedy. The group members will respond any time there is a disaster in the community, Stidvent said.
The Red Cross, which helps out in crisis situations, is attempting to form support teams all over the country.
Social service agencies assisting with the team in Waco include the Mental Health Association, Waco Center for Youth, the Center for Action Against Sexual Assault and the Department of Protective and Regulatory Services.