Lahaina’s wounds to mental health could ripple through generations: Experts

While the physical wounds of the fire are still healing for many, the mental wounds may take much longer.
Published: Aug. 29, 2023 at 10:56 PM HST|Updated: Aug. 30, 2023 at 1:29 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - While the physical wounds of the fire are still raw for many, the mental wounds may take much longer to heal, experts say.

Mental health experts say the Lahaina fire was so horrific, it will have a lasting effect on future generations. The best way to deal with that trauma is to build resilience and support one another.

Kevin Nagasaki is both a survivor and working to support his community come to terms with everything they lost. He was the officer in charge of Lahaina’s Salvation Army and lived in the officer’s quarters behind the nonprofit’s church. Now the entire facility is gone.

“We had to evacuate and basically just leave with the shirt on our backs,” said Nagasaki.

Despite losing his home, Nagasaki has been busy providing spiritual support to survivors.

“I’m trying to stay positive,” said Nagasaki. “You know, you gotta stand strong to keep everything going. That’s why it’s Lahaina strong.”

Therapist Edwina Reyes said people need to heal in their own ways and on their own time.

“It helps to give a broader picture, even making meaning and sense out of why this terrible thing happened to me,” Reyes said. She will soon be heading to Maui with her church to help.

She said it’s crucial for fire victims to process their trauma to avoid unhealthy coping mechanisms or addictions that can be passed down.

“Puts a person at tremendous risk for their, for poverty for their mental health well-being, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder,” said Reyes.

“And some of these kinds of mental health issues are also very, very long-lasting, and when they’re left untreated, it can be very dangerous for the individual and the families over time.”

The Salvation Army has a team of people trained in emotional support.

Special Section: Those We Lost in Lahaina

They don’t have degrees, but they have big hearts.

“We spend considerable time just listening or talking story,” said Troy Neil Trimmer, of The Salvation Army.

“If people want prayer, we’ll pray for them, but all of that helps with the mental psyche, right?”

Reyes said Lahaina’s survivors also need to learn about mental health triggers. Saturday’s fire in Kaanapali is an example. When sirens sounded and evacuations were ordered, some people were overcome by fear. There are ways to ease the trauma, but Reyes said victims can’t do it alone.

“Getting the help, getting the knowledge, getting the education is going to be key, getting the help, and not staying and trying to feel like you have to do this yourself,” said Reyes.

Here’s a list of mental health resources for those impacted by the Maui fires.