Mental health services available to Maui residents as wildfire survivors process tragedy

Much of the focus on the Maui wildfires has been on the physical needs of the survivors and the property they lost. But it’s also important to address the psychological needs of those impacted.

The Hawaiʻi Department of Health is offering crisis mental health service to those experiencing emotional or psychological stress as a result of the fires.

John Oliver, the Maui program director for the DOH’s Adult Mental Health Division, said once the initial shock fades, many will face a whole new mental battle.

“Once they have their immediate needs met, physically, they will probably be experiencing different symptoms,” he explained.

“If they do, it could be depression, suicidal thoughts, nightmares,” he added. Oliver also warned of anger and aggressive behaviors, as well as alcohol and substance use.

Depression and anxiety after a natural disaster are not only normal but expected. Oliver urges survivors to reach out for help as early as possible, as mental health treatment is most effective early on.

“Asian Americans are one of the least likely to utilize mental health services in the country,” Oliver said.

“There’s a certain stigma to mental health that we are working to reduce, and as the most diverse state in the country, as far as population, and with the most significant numbers of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, we need to recognize that.”

The collective trauma from the Maui wildfires will send shock waves through the community for years to come. As people move forward, Oliver said it will be important to support one another.

“Maui is a very independent and very close-knit community. We have much support here for individuals, it’s just making sure people are aware of it,” he said.

Oliver urges parents to check on their keiki, as the wildfires and social media content surrounding it can be “very difficult for developing minds to process.”

Anyone struggling with their mental health can dial 988 to reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, which will direct them to a local crisis counselor.

Oliver noted that anyone over the age of 14 does not require parental consent to talk to a medical professional, so services are accessible to teenagers who may wish to remain anonymous.

AMHD has a clinic in Wailuku and health professionals operating out of the Comprehensive Health Center in Lāhainā. Telehealth assessments are also available.

For people outside of West Maui in need of help, Oliver suggests reaching out to a health care provider to see if they have counselor referrals.

People can also contact the DOH directly. Services are offered on a sliding scale of prices for those who can’t afford treatment.

“Any type of support is certainly better than no support,” Oliver said.

Resources can be found at

This interview aired on The Conversation on August 15, 2023. The Conversation airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on HPR-1. This interview was adapted for the web by Emily Tom.

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