By Cleve Bryan

BRIGANTINE, NJ (CBS) – Nearly two years after Superstorm Sandy many survivors are still trying to figure out their housing and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to a Monmouth University Poll about 1 in 5 survivors still suffer serious distress, which isn’t much of an improvement from a year ago.

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“Not knowing where you stand in that process with the state of New Jersey has been stressful,” says Jane Peltonen whose Brigantine home is still under repair.

Experts say the most common cause of stress isn’t reliving Sandy or worrying about another storm, it’s feeling worn out by the rebuilding process.

“Just waiting two years trying to get back in your home is very stressful,” says Vicki Phillips, executive director of the Mental Health Association of Atlantic County.

Phillips says she still gets phone calls regularly from tearful survivors who feel exasperated.

They tell her if it’s not arguing with insurance companies stressing them out, it’s waiting for a construction permit or in many cases waiting for grants they applied for more than a year ago.

According to the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs there are about 11,000 eligible applicants for the RREM program (Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation) which can provide up to $150,000 in grant money for homeowners.

So far about 4,400 have signed grant awards while another 4,400 are yet to sign their offers and about 2,100 are on the waiting list.

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Frank Ciccio’s home in Brigantine is almost finished being elevated and while his stress level has improved it is still a struggle to watch construction crews at work.

“Emotionally it’s being away from your house, for eight months and not knowing when things are going to happen,” says Ciccio.

Both Ciccio and Peltonen have received support from BrigStrong a local Long Term Recovery Group that works with the MHA of Atlantic County.

The Monmouth University poll found only about half of Sandy survivors experiencing serious distress feel they need mental health assistance.

Phillips says survivors shouldn’t feel embarrassed or uncomfortable meeting with counselors or going to a support group where they can find a community of people in the same situation.

“We always say you won’t be around to help others if you don’t take care of yourself,” says Phillips.

For information how to get plugged in you can call 2-1-1 or reach your local Long Term Recovery Group by visiting nj211.org

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