Text Only | SAMHSA News Home

SAMHSA News - January/February 2006, Volume 14, Number 1

Mental Health Campaign Supports Hurricane Survivors

photo of Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt at podium at the launch of Hurricane PSAs

Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt. Photo by Martín Castillo

SAMHSA and the Ad Council recently launched an outreach campaign that includes public service announcements (PSAs) to help survivors of hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma.

The Hurricane Mental Health Awareness Campaign's objective is to encourage and help adults, parents, caregivers, children, and first responders who may be experiencing psychological distress following these recent hurricanes to consider seeking mental health services.

photo of Charles G. Curie, M.A., A.C.S.W., SAMHSA Administrator standing at podium

SAMHSA Administrator Charles G. Curie. Photo by Martín Castillo

The television and radio spots in both English and Spanish address the fears, concerns, and questions faced by survivors. These PSAs will be distributed to 12,000 media outlets nationwide.

In addition, SAMHSA has created a Web site of disaster relief information at www.mentalhealth.
. The Web site includes a national hotline for survivors to call for assistance—1 (800) 789-2647. Publications, related topics, and important links are also posted (see Resources).

The PSAs

photos in public service announcement in mental health outreach campaign to hurricane first responders
SAMHSA and the Ad Council collaborated on several public service announcements (PSAs) to help rescue workers, adults, and parents and families cope with the aftermath of the recent hurricanes.

Outreach to first responders through one PSA provides an opportunity for rescue workers to get help through a toll-free number.

For adults, the PSA messages ask, "Having trouble coping? Help is waiting!" In Spanish, "¿Estás teniendo problemas enfrentando la situación? Puedes encontrar ayuda."

For parents and caregivers concerned about their children, one PSA asks, "What's going on in the mind of a child who's lived through a hurricane?" A child's voice answers, "You can drown in your bed if you fall asleep."

For first responders, one PSA explains, "Sometimes the bravest thing you can do is take care of yourself."


According to SAMHSA, past research on the mental health consequences of major floods and hurricanes suggests that the psychological effects of the recent disasters could be extensive. SAMHSA estimates that in areas devastated by the hurricanes, 25 to 30 percent of the population may experience clinically significant mental health needs and an additional 10 to 20 percent may show subclinical (but not trivial) needs.

Up to 500,000 people may be in need of assistance.

"Since the beginning of this unprecedented disaster, we have been concerned about the mental well-being of those affected by the storms," said Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt.

People who were displaced by the storms have lost their homes, schools, communities, places of worship, daily routines, social support, personal possessions, and much more. In some cases, the emotional toll includes the sorrow of losing a loved one or witnessing death, widespread destruction, and criminal violence.

photos in public service announcement providing toll-free number for parents to call for help coping with their children's fears after living through a hurricane
For parents and families: It's difficult to know what's going on in the mind of a child who's lived through a hurricane. To help, this PSA provides parents and family members with a toll-free number to call for guidance to calm their children's fears, reassure them, and make sure children are coping as best they can.
The psychological impact of these experiences can be both serious and long-lasting. Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder—including depression, grief, and anger—are to be expected. Survivors may also develop physical health and behavior problems, such as substance abuse disorders among adults and conduct problems among children in school or at home. Some of these problems may not surface for months or years.

"Most hurricane survivors demonstrate remarkable resiliency and will rebuild their lives without significant mental health or substance abuse issues," said SAMHSA Administrator Charles G. Curie, M.A., A.C.S.W. "We also know that there are a significant number of people who will have difficulty achieving recovery without professional assistance. And now help is a phone call away."

Who May Need Help

The campaign's PSAs aim to reach adult survivors and first responders directly, as well as parents and caregivers who can assess their children's emotional well-being. On the surface, it's obvious that survivors may need help; however, it is much less obvious that first responders may need help.

The effects of disasters on first responders—those emergency personnel and rescue workers who helped people survive these storms—may include mild or serious mental health problems from witnessing so much pain and suffering. Many turn to alcohol or drugs, too.

Viewers and listeners of the PSAs are asked to take time to check in on how they and their families are doing, and call a confidential toll-free number—1 (800) 789-2647 for adults/parents and 1 (800) 273-TALK for first responders—to speak to a trained professional who can assist with information and referrals to local services.

"As survivors struggle to rebuild their lives and focus on their immediate physical needs, it is important for them to also consider their short- and long-term emotional needs," said Peggy Conlon, President and CEO of the Ad Council. "This poignant campaign, created pro bono by Grey Advertising, will encourage victims to get help."

The PSAs are being distributed to television and radio stations nationwide via the FastChannel Network, and they will air in advertising time donated by the media.

For more information or to view the PSAs, visit the SAMHSA Web site at www.samhsa.govEnd of Article

Back to Top


The following resources are included on the SAMHSA Web site for disaster relief information at www.mentalhealth.

National hotline for assistance

1 (800) 789-2647 (adults/parents)
1 (800) 273-TALK (first responders)


  • Communicating in a Crisis: Risk Communications Guidelines for Public Officials

  • A Guide to Managing Stress in Crisis Response Professions

  • Disaster Counseling

  • Helping Children Cope with Fear and Anxiety

Online links

National Child Traumatic Stress Network

National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Federal Emergency Management Agency
www.fema.govEnd of Article

See Also—Previous Article

See Also—Next Article

Back to Top

skip navigation
Inside This Issue

Screening Adds Prevention to Treatment
Part 1
Part 2

From the Administrator: The Value of Screening

Officials Plan for Flu Pandemic

Mental Health Campaign for Hurricane Survivors

Transforming State Mental Health Systems

The Road Home: Veterans Conference Planned

Two Reports: Substance Use Among Veterans

Town Hall Meetings Planned on Underage Drinking

Underage Drinkers Seek Help in Emergency Rooms

SAMHSA Grant Opportunities

"Fine Line" Detailed in Portraits

Rebuilding Afghanistan's Mental Health System
Part 1
Part 2

Statistics Released on School Services

Adolescents, Adults Report Major Depression

Guidelines Released on Marijuana Counseling

2006 Recovery Month Web Site Launched

Reach Out Now!

Advisory Available on Acamprosate

SAMHSA News Information

SAMHSA News - January/February 2006, Volume 14, Number 1

SAMHSA Contracts | SAMHSA's Budget | Employment | Site Map
 SAMHSA Home  Contact the Staff  Accessibility  Privacy Policy  Freedom of Information Act
 Disclaimer  Department of Health and Human Services  The White House  First Gov