When 24 victims of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing flooded the trauma center of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, the immediate focus was on saving lives.
But after patients stabilized in the days and weeks ahead, clinicians were acutely aware of an injury that couldn't be easily seen: emotional trauma.
Beth Israel's licensed social workers were beside patients and their terrified family members for their entire hospital stay to offer any support they needed.
"We had patients here for up to five weeks. We made sure that every patient that was here had someone they would see as a familiar face and was available to them," said Barbara Sarnoff Lee, senior director of social work and patient and family engagement at Beth Israel.
Caring for the mental health of victims and their families after traumatic events like the Boston bombing and last week's mass shooting in Las Vegas is an essential part of disaster response, according to behavioral health experts. After such events, mental health professionals from the community—and even across the country—mobilize to help victims deal with the trauma.
"Every state, every county, every town has a disaster plan, and they have rules on the physical side and the emotional side," said Linda Rosenberg, CEO of the National Council for Behavioral Health. "Usually, mental health professionals will be part of the first-responder groups. They will do counseling, they will be there as a resource."