SuperTalk Mississippi

After a natural disaster: MSU offers mental health support

From agricultural damage to financial challenges, the effects of a natural disaster can be physically and emotionally overwhelming for farmers and residents of an impacted region. As those in the Mississippi Delta and surrounding areas continue to cope and begin recovery from recent devastating floods, faculty and staff in Mississippi State’s Extension Service and Department of Psychology are extending reminders that can help.

David Buys, state health specialist with the MSU Extension Service, said the university’s Extension agents have completed a Mental Health First Aid training program managed by the National Council for Behavioral Health. Through the program’s curriculum, Extension agents, 4-H adult volunteers and others have learned how to recognize when farmers and others may be in distress or experiencing mental health problems. Trained Extension agents can connect clients to counseling, medical care and other forms of assistance.

“MSU Extension Director Dr. Gary Jackson mandated that all of our agents be trained in mental health first aid because mental health issues are important, particularly among ag producers we are charged with serving,” Buys said. “This curriculum on mental health is extremely well written, and I think it helps our agents feel very well equipped to take the material forward and share it in a way that’s accurate and helpful.”

Michael R. Nadorff, an MSU associate professor of psychology and licensed psychologist, said people coping with physical and financial challenges may also struggle with a lost sense of connectedness following a natural disaster. He said support from friends, family, church groups and community organizations is very helpful.

 “When you know everyone is dealing with their own difficult situations, you may feel like you shouldn’t reach out, but my biggest advice is to do that,” he said. “Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Other people probably feel the same way, and you can help each other.”

Director of MSU’s Sleep, Suicide and Aging Laboratory, Nadorff said in addition to seeking external support, those impacted by a natural disaster can find relief through self-care. Breaking down a large amount of work into smaller, more manageable tasks and re-establishing one’s daily routine can provide a renewed sense of normalcy that is important for healing.

“After a natural disaster, you may be looking at all of the things right in front of you that you need to fix or get done, so you may forget about sleeping, eating, socializing and other forms of self-care,” Nadorff said. “Even if you are able to resume doing just one thing from your routine, it can help you feel that much closer to being back where you were before everything happened. Accepting what you can control, like taking care of your family and mental health will help you be more productive with clean-up or other things you need to do to move forward.”

If you or someone you care about needs help, please call the Mississippi Department of Mental Health lifeline at 1-877-210-8513.

For more on MSU Extension Service’s mental health outreach efforts, visit

Learn more about MSU’s Department of Psychology at

MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at

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