We covered this topic in an episode of our Podcast, Talk Therapy To Me. If you prefer to listen rather than read, you can do that here:
As of this past week, the death toll from the flooding in eastern Kentucky has reached 37 and dozens of people are still missing, which is utterly devastating. There have been search and rescue teams, but due to the collapsed bridges and overall chaos, it’s been a slower process.
Hundreds of people have been displaced due to this flooding. While it may not directly affect you, there’s a sort of shock and despair that settles in when we witness the tragedy of what others are experiencing.
In some sense, we feel and experience it with them. I think that’s part of the human condition - being able to recognize when someone is going through a harrowing and troubling experience - and offering them compassion and understanding in the midst of it. This is collective trauma. It’s an event that shatters us - thrusts us into uncertainty - as we try to grapple with the reality of the situation.
Collective trauma is separated into two groups: those who directly experienced it and those who are far removed from the event itself. It does not merely reflect an historical fact, the recollection of a terrible event that happened to a group of people, but it suggests that the event itself rests in the collective memory of the group. It comprises not only a reproduction of the events, but also an ongoing reconstruction of the trauma in an attempt to make sense of it.
Sociologist Kai Erikson eloquently describes the similarities and differences between individual and collective trauma and their impact on the self: “by individual trauma I mean a blow to the psyche that breaks through one’s defenses so suddenly and with such brutal force that one cannot react to it effectively…by collective trauma, on the other hand, I mean a blow to the basic tissues of social life that damages the bonds attaching people together and impairs the prevailing sense of communality.”
For people who are directly affected by the traumatic event itself, the collective trauma rests in how to support each other and promote group preservation. It can also offer a sense of meaning to people who experienced it so that they feel less alone by the crushing weight of the situation. It clarifies that the essence of meaning is connection. There is always comfort in someone else understanding what you experienced so that you don’t have to explain it. You can just look at each other and know.
Another interesting thing to note is that even when the dust settles, the residual effects of trauma will remain. These effects of trauma on the construction of collective meaning may, ironically, increase as time elapses from the traumatic event because the focus of memory shifts from the painful loss of lives to the long-term lessons groups derive from the trauma. The questions that come up could be: where do we go from here? How can we prevent this from happening again? Some of them may be hard to answer, but it’s important to explore those to make sense of the situation.
That leads us into the conversation of what we can do about it. It can feel debilitating and overwhelming to feel helpless to offer assistance to those in need, however, there are many things we can do. If you are local, we are going to be sharing some location-specific information that could be more pertinent to your area. There are many places who are asking for food, clothing, and other donations that people are able to give.
Check out our YouTube page to hear Shayla discuss more information regarding that.
Overall, there are some other groups that are helping who would benefit from donations if you are not local to the area.
The Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief Fund - started by Governor Beshear on kentucky.gov - has already raised over $684,000.
The Red Cross in Kentucky is another option as they have set up a shelter in Hazard, Kentucky. Their fundraiser can be found on redcross.org.
A grassroots advocacy movement, Appalachians for Appalachia, has created a Google Doc for organizations such as schools and churches that are providing shelter. The group is also compiling locations that are accepting material donations and detailing specifically what is being requested.
Save the Children has worked to protect children in the aftermath of natural disasters from hurricanes to wildfires and is now accepting donations to its 2022 Eastern Kentucky Flood Crisis Fund. These donations will go toward providing essential items such as water, hygiene kits and diapers.
The ARH Foundation Flood Relief Fund is accepting monetary and material donations, including cleaning supplies, baby formula, diapers and supplies, pet food, personal hygiene items, food and other essential items.
The Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky, a nonprofit community group in Hazard, Kentucky, is accepting donations through its Appalachian Crisis Aid Fund.
The Kentucky Department of Agriculture is accepting donated goods in Frankfort, Kentucky, through Aug. 5, with bottled water, toiletries and non-perishable items taking top priority.
Alongside the multiple GoFundMe campaigns to help individuals, families and communities in Eastern Kentucky, GoFundMe has set up an overarching Summer Storms Relief Fund 2022 to donate to victims of the flooding in St. Louis and Kentucky.
Don’t hesitate to reach out to us at Mindsight if you would like more support, guidance, or a compassionate ear!
Caitlin Bloom, LPCA
Caitlin is a Behavioral Health Clinician who enjoys reading, writing, as well as spending time with her husband and cat, Coffeebean, when she’s not counseling others. Caitlin likes helping clients guide themselves into deeper meaning, purpose, and connection for their lives. She focuses on finding resources, techniques, and coping skills on their journey for further fulfillment.
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Hirschberger G. (2018). Collective Trauma and the Social Construction of Meaning. Frontiers in psychology, 9, 1441. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01441