05/31/2013 01:13 pm ET Updated Jul 31, 2013

Facing a Disaster With a Sprained Ankle

Growing up in Miami, I was an all-star skater. During the speed skating races, they would put me several yards behind everyone else as a handicap; I still always came in first place. However, one day I sprained my ankle. The race prize was a Ted Nugent album (don't judge me!), and I was not about to let that prize pass me by, so I decided to compete without telling anyone about my injury. Once again, I started several yards behind the rest of the pack. I tried to overcome the injury and carry on to victory, but my body could only push me so far: I wound up coming in tenth place.

I thought of this anecdote as I was reflecting on disaster resilience the other night -- people can have all the heart and nerve in the world, but if they start off injured and behind, they're far less likely to do as well during a disaster, and much more likely to have an extended recovery period. Interested donors should keep this in mind when they consider where to give.

Some Things to Remember:

• There is a difference between the crisis counseling that happens during the relief phase of a disaster and the ongoing counseling in the recovery phase. The ongoing counseling is usually characterized by a set of structured interventions, depending on the needs of the child, family, or the individual. One great example of a PTSD intervention program in recovery is InCourage, developed by the Baton Rouge Area Foundation.

• When looking to fund nonprofits specializing in mental health, it is important that the organization have professionals who specialize in trauma-related disorders.

• Heads of organizations and CEOs should provide on-site counseling services for staff, volunteers, and board members, but they should not forget about themselves and their own mental health as well.

• In some cases, it can be very helpful for people with a background in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and trauma to go to disaster-prone areas in the wake of a disaster to assist nonprofits who may not have appropriate staff to accommodate the needs of the community. This is often a need that goes unfunded.

• Generally, people who are suffering from problems before a disaster tend not to do as well during the disaster.

• Having said that, if you ever wanted to be in the board room and never had the chance, go to a meeting during a disaster - there are plenty of open seats. Disasters are where crisis leaders are born.

• Women tend to be more prone to depression during disasters for a variety of reasons, including limited access to information, lower income etc. However, studies also show that if women are given an equal share of responsibility and tasks in disaster preparation, relier and recovery, their mental health is greatly improved, and they fare far better.

• If you ever tried to skate a race with a sprained ankle, you know that you want it to be over as soon as possible. Shortening the time it takes a community to recovery from a disaster is one of the most important investments a donor can make.

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