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Georgia company offers mental health help for Hurricane Michael survivors

Posted at 6:20 PM, Jul 24, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-24 18:20:14-04

THOMASVILLE, Ga. (WTXL) — Hurricane Michael lives on in the damage it left behind.

That damage goes beyond destroyed homes and farms. For some people, it continues in the forms of depression or anxiety.

Michael is a prime example of the long-term impact weather can have on mental health.

October 10, 2018, Hurricane Michael made landfall near Tyndall Air Force Base and devastated the Florida Panhandle and southwest Georgia. People here are still trying to rebuild their lives.

"Out in Seminole County, some of the houses are still having to be rebuilt. The farms still have some of their machinery out in the field, wrecked," said Robert Hurn, the chief executive officer of Georgia Pines. "It's still there. It's still, at least I know for sure, on their mind."

Georgia Pines offers a number of services to the southwest Georgia community, including mental health help. Following the hurricane, Georgia Pines received a grant from FEMA and created the "Georgia Recovery Project" to help those affected by the storm.

Through this program, 11 crisis counselors travel to five different Georgia counties, offering their services to people, whether it's individual or group counseling, or public education.

"We're just out in the community doing outreach, doing crisis counseling, and helping like people to resources and making referrals if needed," said Charlotte Austin, the program manager of the Georgia Recovery Project. "Some people may need more extensive services than just crisis counseling."

After the storm, neighbors pulled together to support each other. But the community feeling has faded, leaving some with symptoms of depression, anxiety, or even PTSD.

"A lot of people don't know when to seek help," Austin explained. "That's kind of why this program has been so amazing because we can go out in the community and kind of educate people. We kind of look for if their normal everyday lives have been disrupted. Is this impacting their relationships in any way? Their jobs?"

Although the stigma surrounding mental health has gotten better, it's still there. The Georgia Recovery Project is hoping to show those who are still suffering from Hurricane Michael that there is help.

"Get the word out there that there is help and there is hope," Hurn said. "Coming in a receiving services is not the end of the world."

"We haven't forgotten about them," said Austin. "This was a devastating storm and a lot of people really experienced a lot. We're here. We're here to help."

Through the Georgia Recovery Project, Austin hopes to continue offering services to those who need it until October, when we'll mark one-year since Hurricane Michael.