August 5, 2016  — Categorized in:

Disaster Distress Helpline and Medical Reserve Corps: Collaborating for Disaster Behavioral Health

Christian Burgess, Director of the Disaster Distress Helpline (DDH), a program administered by MHA-NYC for the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), describes how we have collaborated with the national Medical Reserve Corps units around the country in support of our mutual work to assist individuals, families and communities impacted by disaster.


The Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) is a national network of volunteers in the medical, behavioral health and public healthcare professions organized into units by city, county, state and/or region to improve the health and safety of their communities. There are 988 MRC units across the U.S. and territories, utilizing 200,000 trained volunteers to provide services ranging from staffing vaccination clinics to assisting medical facilities with surge staffing capacity following disasters.

This past April, the Disaster Distress Helpline was honored to receive the 2016 National Partner Recognition Award from the national Medical Reserve Corps. We have worked closely with the MRC over the years, and are excited to continue our great work together.


The DDH team proudly displays its 2016 Medical Reserve Corps award.

In 2011, SAMHSA created the Disaster Distress Helpline (DDH) as a sub-network of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Calls and texts to the DDH (1-800-985-5990) come from individuals and families experiencing emotional distress or other mental health concerns throughout any phase of a natural or human-caused disaster.

In order to reach people affected by disasters, DDH staff engage in year-round and disaster-specific outreach with key stakeholders in preparedness, response and recovery so that communities impacted by disasters are aware of the DDH as a 24/7/365 emotional support and crisis resource. DDH staff work to promote DDH services and coordinate behavioral health resources with other stakeholders, and it is in this mission that MRC units have become vital partners. Examples of collaborations that MHA-NYC DDH staff have engaged in with MRC units across the U.S. include:

  • Conducting presentations at MRC-sponsored workshops and conferences
  • Providing materials on wellness and mental health issues commonly experienced by disaster survivors and responders, for MRC volunteers to share with the people they serve during disaster relief deployment activities
  • Recruiting volunteers from MRC units in August 2015 to participate in the first ever DDH network-wide disaster simulation exercise, conducting role plays as callers/texters in distress following a hypothetical major disaster, to help MHA-NYC enhance its training for networked-crisis center staff.

In addition, in February 2016 the Director of the Medical Reserve Corps, CAPT Rob Tosatto, joined the national DDH Steering Committee, serving alongside other experts in disaster behavioral health and emergency preparedness, response and recovery as advisors to MHA-NYC and SAMHSA for the DDH program.

We at DDH and MHA-NYC are honored to be receive the 2016 National Partner Recognition Award from the MRC, not only in reflection of these past and recent collaborations, but also in light of the continued outreach that we know we’ll continue to engage in with MRC units across the U.S. in service to people impacted by disasters.


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