New program offers hotline support for hurricane survivors

PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) — A newly released program called Hurricane Ian Support Line is helping survivors of the storm that battered southwest Florida. It brings together local people who made it through Hurricane Michael with survivors of Hurricane Ian.

Even though it only launched this week, they already have over 25 calls and expect more.

Courtney Stanford is a mentor who survived Hurricane Michael.

“If someone from South Florida makes that call to the peer line, we’re on the other end of the phone to provide our experience,” Stanford said.

“It’s not a mental health line, it’s not a crisis line, it’s a real peer-to-peer line,” Stanford said.

One of her colleagues, an Ian survivor, struggles over what to do now for his children’s education.

This is a situation Stanford was going through four years ago when Hurricane Michael hit the Florida Panhandle.

“This gentleman is talking to me about how I don’t know what to do with my child’s education and I was like, oh my god, but I’ve made that decision and my little girl is fine,” Stanford said.

The reassuring voice on the other end of the line gives Ian survivors someone to talk to for advice and support.

Lyn Masslieno is another volunteer who also experienced Hurricane Michael.

“I have the lived experience of living through Hurricane Michael,” Masslieno said. “I can remember some days that were tough and tough for me and my family. To be able to reach and support them.”

Both volunteers and locals know how much pain a hurricane can bring. Between a third and half of those who have experienced a disaster suffer from mental health problems.

This line can help alleviate that and give hope to the survivors.

“The hope that they’re not alone, others have been through something similar and can offer them support and a little guidance,” Stanford said.

The volunteers say that talking to Ian about the aftermath of a traumatic experience brings back memories for survivors.

“You know you’re listening to the survivors of Hurricane Ian, which of course, when you’ve been through a traumatic situation, brings up thoughts about what you’ve been through,” Masslieno said.

Stanford says it’s therapeutic for her to talk to these survivors and share experiences and reassure herself that better days are ahead.

Northwest Florida Health Network has more than 30 volunteers.

If you have experience, they will hold a training schedule next Tuesday. You can contact Lyn Masslieno at [email protected] for more information.

About Ellen Lewandowski

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