In the weeks and months after the 1972 flood, Msgr. William O’Connell and other clergy in the community tried their best to address the emotional needs of survivors.
O’Connell clearly remembers one woman who called in the night. Her children were too terrified to sleep because of the rain outside.
“Those weeks after the flood, when there were heavy rains, people would call just to talk,” he said.
The term Post Traumatic Stress Disorder wasn’t part of common vocabulary in 1972. In fact, the term wasn’t coined until the mid-1970s. But just because it didn’t have a name doesn’t mean it didn’t exist.
People have always been vulnerable to such things as depression, anxiety and nightmares after traumatic experiences, said Bob Holmes, a counselor with Behavior Management in Rapid City.
Yet often those needs get lost in the more immediate physical needs after something such as a flood.
O’Connell, a retired priest with the Rapid City Diocese, said clergy in the community organized shortly after the flood.
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“The long-term needs are where we began … to address what we now call post traumatic syndrome,” he said.
The group used radio and television to provide public services announcements and worked with area counselors to help flood survivors and others. They worked out of an office at First Methodist Church for 18 months after the flood.
O’Connell said people were often hesitant to admit they needed help. “It took a while for people to admit they were fragmented,” he said.
Those who did come forward were often dealing with survivor’s guilt and horrific memories of the night. The group did the best it could to meet those needs, but O’Connell said probably less than 100 people came forward for help.
O’Connell believes that since that time, society has become more effective at addressing the emotional needs of people after traumatic experiences.
“We’ve grown to appreciate the need of speaking the truth,” he said.