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'Please get these kids therapy': Focus put on mental health in aftermath of Kentucky storms

The physical toll has been heavy, but the emotional wounds for families in Western Kentucky we're told can be just as debilitating.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — President Joe Biden said it himself during his visits to Mayfield and Dawson Springs in Western Kentucky: Hundreds of families are battling trauma and PTSD after storms ripped their homes apart, and in some cases, took their loved ones away.

That includes children. Behavioral health experts tell WHAS11 seeking therapy quickly can make all the difference years down the line.

The physical toll has been heavy, but experts say the emotional wounds for families can be just as debilitating.

"They're going to feel like they really have no power over the situation, which is going to lead to an increase in fear and anxiety," said Stacey Harris, the manager of Inpatient Behavioral Health Services at the University of Louisville Health, Peace Hospital.

Harris tells us post-storm PTSD, including in children, is an extensive issue -- in many cases, going untreated for years.

"Being children, they're going to most likely have a difficult time expressing that fear and anxiety to us," Harris said.

RELATED: On a single Kentucky street, a tornado killed 7 children

Meanwhile, we also spoke to Storm Corey, a therapist who's been helping Mayfield families over the last few days. She says the road to mental recovery can be a long and tedious one.

She didn't waste any time, posting on Facebook days ago saying she's available in-person for anyone in Mayfield who needs to talk -- also adding she'd drive over to help and listen. Corey, who lives in Fancy Farm, says within days dozens took her up on her offer.

"My phone has been ringing off the hook," she said. "Going door to door, trying to see who's there, who's left."

Now, Corey's already spoken to dozens of survivors, including children.

"This tornado devastated the poorest people in our community. They're telling me this is the worst thing they've ever lived through. They've lost everything," Corey said.

Few understand this better than Southwest Jefferson County's Tracy Graves.

"I've done a lot of crying, I've done a lot of shaking, I've been having flashbacks," Graves said.

Still to this day, Graves battles trauma decades after the 1974 tornado outbreak destroyed her Southern Indiana home. At just three years old, she and her family had to climb out of the rubble.

RELATED: Tornado victims include seven members of Kentucky family in Bowling Green

"I grew up screaming in my sleep, and I still have episodes screaming in my sleep," she said.

Her number-one recommendation to families: Don't wait, seek help -- because there's access everywhere.

"Please get these kids therapy. They will have things where they will manifest what's going on," Graves said. "It's going to be hard. It changes who they are."

Behavioral health experts, like Harris, say recognize and act on the signs.

"Don't let children begin to isolate themselves. We want to talk about this, get it out in the open, and talk about it on their level," Harris said. "So they understand this is a very scary thing, and it's OK to talk about it."

And for Corey, she says the key is remembering recovery is a process, done step by step.

"This is something we're going to be recovering from for years, if not forever," Corey said.

Remember, Kentucky's state parks are sheltering residents affected by the storms, in many cases with counselors on site.

Also, the Kentucky crisis text line is a way to reach a volunteer crisis counselor. Just text 'KY' to 741-741.

The Salvation Army is at shelters, serving meals and providing emotional support to survivors. Also, Transcend Counseling Services is offering six free sessions to anyone impacted by the Western Kentucky tornadoes.

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