Water, check. Extra batteries, check. Sandbags, check. Non-perishable foods, check. Every resident of Wilmington was endlessly reviewing the checklist to prepare for Hurricane Florence. Tension was high as home improvement stores ran out of plywood and propane. Lines at gas stations were long and many residents were disappointed when they pulled up to the pump to learn that there was no more gas. Throughout this time of preparation, not one radio station or news station covered the importance of psychological distress during and after a natural disaster. The stress from a disaster can shift a calm person to become anxious, stressed, and nervous about impending doom. For a person who struggles with mental illness daily, a disaster can also be the potential for increased panic attacks, depression, and a setback on potential gains made in recovery.
What about mental health after a hurricane?
Our community has stepped up to help one another during this time of need. Let’s continue to help by supporting one another’s mental health. Below are some tips to help your neighbors, loved ones, or even strangers cope with the aftermath of a hurricane.
Provide as much accurate information as possible
People experiencing a disaster crave ongoing up to date information about anything and everything concerning a disaster. Each new morsel of information can help provide an ounce of stability. Please provide updates to loved ones about recovery efforts or any ongoing threats.
Some people may have evacuated the area and others may have stayed. Regardless of the decision they may, it is important to validate that they made the best decision for themselves, their means, and their family at the time. Please don’t question their decision, just support them.
Everyone has lost something.
The experience of each person going through this storm will be different. Regardless of the physical losses this storm created, every person will have lost a sense of safety. We become comforted by our amenities and conveniences. We are accustomed to power and cell phone service. Flash flooding can wash away our loved ones, our vehicles, our homes. High winds and unexpected tornados can rip off the roof, impale trees through structures, and threaten our lives. Storm surge can wash away lives, homes, and our favorite beaches. When all those things are gone, we remember that no matter how hard we work or try; Mother Nature will remind us that everything we’ve created could be gone in an instant.
People need support in the weeks, months, and a year after a disaster.
During a disaster and the immediate recovery efforts after, people often feel a sense of community after going through a shared experience. Once the normalcy of life returns, people will still be dealing with the loss and displacement. Check in with others for months to come. Stay connected. Ask how they are doing- really doing since the hurricane. Research has shown that when natural disasters are highly destructive and disruptive some protective factors against suicide, like being connected to a social system, are unlikely to be able to compensate for the large scale negative impacts after a few months have passed.
Some people will be able to recover much more quickly than others. Please have patience with those who have a difficult time coping. The Red Cross has additional resources to help with recovery. For some people, this may get worse and they will need additional support and that’s okay. Give LMV Counseling a call to help support you through your recovery.