It has been more than two years since Superstorm Sandy wreaked havoc across the United States, affecting the Eastern Seaboard from Florida to Maine and inland as far as Michigan and Wisconsin. On Oct. 29, 2012, the storm surged into New York City, flooding the streets and subway lines and cutting power across the city. The damage to NYC was estimated at around $65 billion, but the emotional toll was even higher.
More than two years after Superstorm Sandy blew into the city — killing 53 people and damaging more than 300,000 homes and almost as many businesses — many New Yorkers still bear the emotional scars of having lived through such a stressful event. With complaints ranging from insomnia to depression to substance abuse, New York health officials estimate about 700,000 residents are still experiencing mental health problems from the storm.
Many experts agree that cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is a good method for treating many of the mental health issues that New Yorkers face, yet very few people have access to mental health therapy.
To address this access issue, a team from Yale University's Department of Psychiatry developed a range of software-based interactive programs to help large populations recover mentally from a disaster. Working with the Mental Health Association (MHA) of NYC, the agency that runs the state's suicide prevention lifeline, the team was able to integrate its computer-based tools with MHA's telephone, text and chat support. The result is iHelp, a portfolio of clinician-supported, free, online CBT programs that provide New Yorkers with convenient mental health care.
So what is CBT anyhow? It's a type of mental health therapy that teaches people new skills to address their issues. Some of the therapy focuses on learning cognitive skills and some on behavioral skills. Studies have shown that both can impact mood, sleep and anxiety levels. For instance, one technique is challenging your thoughts to help identify the triggers of mental distress. Another, from the behavioral skill side, involves keeping a diary of sleep behaviors to identify areas for improvement in sleep habits.
Programs vary in length from several weeks to two and a half months. The program is available only to New Yorkers at the moment, but iHelp's founders hope to expand it to other areas impacted by disasters. In the meantime, if you live in New York and are still suffering from trauma in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, check out iHelp. It's free. It's confidential. And it could help.
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