- Associated Press - Friday, August 28, 2015

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - Officials are urging residents of Sitka who may be suffering disaster stress and grief in wake of the recent landslide to seek mental health counseling.

The city’s emergency response plan includes a mental health component, which was added a few years ago, the Daily Sitka Sentinel reports (http://bit.ly/1UgZCX5). Those seeking help can call Community Response Counseling for free.

“We’re going to go through a series of emotions and it’s going to affect people differently, some more than others. And some people won’t always reach out for help,” said Al Stevens, the assistant fire chief and incident commander for the landslide response effort.

The landslide occurred Aug. 18 when logs, mud and debris slid down a hillside into a Sitka neighborhood, killing three people.

In response, mental health organizations have coordinated to make sure counselors are on hand in the wake of the disaster to talk to family members and friends of the victims, as well as searchers and rescue workers and other responders.

At a panel discussion Thursday, mental health practitioners said it isn’t only people so directly involved in tragedy who need help.

“Most weren’t involved in the immediate crisis but it’s part of an environment of our community - everyone has heard of it,” said John Raasch, clinical director of Youth Advocates of Sitka.

Clinical Director at Sitka Counseling Marita Bailey said asking for help doesn’t mean someone has a problem, and encouraged community members to call.

“Knowing you need help and you’re asking for it is really a sign of strength,” Bailey said.

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Information from: Daily Sitka (Alaska) Sentinel, http://www.sitkasentinel.com/

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