Governor Andrew M. CuomoALBANY, N.Y. /New York Netwire/ — NY Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced that through “Project Hope,” a Crisis Counseling Assistance and Training Program, more than 700 counselors have been deployed to communities hit hardest by Hurricane Sandy to provide mental health services to affected New Yorkers. The State Office of Mental Health (OMH) estimates that more than 200,000 individuals in New York City, Long Island and the Lower Hudson Valley will receive outreach, crisis counseling and educational services through the program.

As of December 13, 2012, OMH has hired, trained and deployed 717 crisis counselors to New York City, Long Island and Westchester County. In total, the agency expects to hire and deploy more than 900 counselors for Project Hope.

“The devastating impact of Hurricane Sandy continues to be felt across the state,” Governor Cuomo said. “For many New Yorkers who are rebuilding and trying to get their lives back to normal, these are very difficult and stressful times. In response, Project Hope will continue to expand and provide its crisis counseling services so that the hardest hit communities can recover and rebuild as quickly as possible.”

Last month, the State received an $8.2 million grant from FEMA to fund Project Hope. The program seeks to help victims of Hurricane Sandy recognize that, in most cases, their emotional reactions are normal. Crisis counselors in the program use the proven practices of Psychological First Aid, which uses relationship-based contact to provide secure and comfortable settings for victims to recover and obtain information, assistance and referrals. Project Hope aims to help affected New Yorkers return to their levels of functioning and mental health from before the storm.

With the federal grant, OMH has hired and trained crisis counselors to work in impacted areas. These counselors will continue to conduct outreach at community centers and go door-to-door to provide services, which include crisis counseling, emotional support, coping and stress reduction techniques, provider referrals and information on disaster-related resources.

In addition, 85 OMH employees traveled to Disaster Recovery Centers to provide mental health services during Hurricane Sandy. In Nassau, Suffolk, Rockland and Orange counties, more than 20,000 New Yorkers received help.

New York State residents experiencing emotional distress as a result of the disaster can access free, confidential crisis counseling 24/7 by calling LifeNet at 800-543-3638.

Adults with persistent distress from a trauma may show signs of irritability, poor concentration, low mood and hopelessness, isolation, discouragement and uncertainty about the future, persistent grief over their losses, nightmares and flashbacks, new or worsening health problems and alcohol, tobacco and drug abuse. Children, especially those separated from their families, who lost family or friends, or who needed to evacuate or relocate may develop persistent traumatic responses and act younger than their age, perform poorly in school, be isolative, engage in risky behaviors and even get in trouble with the law.

Those experiencing any of the above signs of trauma are encouraged to get help immediately, so that they can recover and rebuild their lives quickly.