You didn’t have to lose a home to be personally affected by Napa’s October wildfires. Even just living in a community that’s been hit by such a disaster is enough to cause stress and anxiety, report mental health experts.
“You don’t get over (a disaster) when the flood waters go away or you can’t see the burn” marks anymore, said Jim Featherstone, a consulting local mental health manager.
Because the county has seen a number of disasters and tragedies in recent months and years, “Mental health is really important right now,” said Jessica Quiñones, a mental health therapist.
Since so many Napans were touched by the fires and their aftermath, mental health advocates recently launched a new program in Napa County called California HOPE.
California HOPE provides free crisis counseling, resource navigation and disaster recovery education services. It’s for people, families and groups most affected by the recent Napa and Sonoma County fires.
California HOPE was originally created after the 2015 Butte Fire, one of the most destructive wildfires in state history. The program launched in Napa County in January.
Eight crisis counselors are part of the California HOPE program in Napa County. Services are bilingual and confidential. No identification is required.
So far, more than 860 people have received help from the program, said Quiñones, the program manager. Most of those are adults, but about 200 children have also been assisted.
To reach residents, the counselors literally knock on doors or call people who have visited resources centers in the past.
“It’s a more casual, direct neighbor-to-neighbor approach,” said Featherstone. And it applies to everyone affected, from minimum wage earners to the residents of Silverado Resort.
“We want to make sure even our children know we are here for them,” said Quiñones. They are in a place that has a community that supports them,” she said.
Quiñones said the workers use an example of a phoenix when talking with children.
Like a phoenix, “Sometimes we go through difficult times, but after going through it we come out stronger and better and more beautiful.” A temporary tattoo of a phoenix helps drive home that metaphor.
In addition to anxiety from the October fires, Quiñones said locals may be feeling anxiety or stress from a number of things, including the 2014 Napa earthquake, the 2015 Lake County fires, the January shooting at Starbucks on Lincoln Avenue, the March 9 murders in Yountville and even recent U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids.
The after-effects of such trauma “hangs around,” Featherstone said.
Quiñones is a mental health therapist and crisis counselor at Mentis, a provider of mental health services in Napa County.
She’s also the team leader of California HOPE in Napa County. Featherstone is a consultant.
The goal of California HOPE is to educate people about common symptoms of post-disaster stress such as anxiety, insomnia, irritability, isolation, panic attacks or fears.
The program wants to promote “resilience, empowerment and recovery,” said Quiñones. Indeed, the words “helping, outreach, possibilities and empowerment” make up the HOPE acronym.
“If you can provide counseling then you have a stronger community,” said Featherstone.
“We just want them to review their recovery options and point them to the right resources,” said Quiñones.
That includes mental health services but also housing, education, health care and other resources.
In addition, Quiñones said, “We want people to understand they still have resources inside of them. Yes, times are tough, but they are tough as well. Some have forgotten that and we are here to remind them of it.”
The program is funded by the Federal Emergency and Management Agency (FEMA) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Center for Mental Health Services.
Napa’s share of its first California Hope grant is $127,642, said Featherstone. A second grant for another nine months of care has been proposed. The budget for that second grant is $465,255.
“The program is going pretty well,” said Featherstone. Representatives from FEMA has reviewed their progress and “they have been very pleased with our outreach, especially to our Spanish-speaking population,” he said.
While the goal is to contact and provide assistance to an estimated 2,000 people, it’s hard to say exactly how many more locals California HOPE might be able to help in Napa County, said Quiñones.
“We’re just going to go and go and go until we need to stop.”
She had this message for Napa County residents.
“If you feel like you’re at the end of your rope, there are resources. There is help.”