The Toll On Mental Health from Natural Disasters

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Many studies report that natural disasters have short-term and long-term mental health consequences, such as depression, post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSS), anxiety, and suicide among disaster survivors. 

A recent study supports this point. It focused on survivors of Hurricane Irma in 2017 and reported that while “the strongest association to PTSS was from direct loss or injury”, previous hurricane-related loss or injury, previous mental health ailments, not evacuating from an evacuation zone, and even hurricane-related media exposure were also associated with a linear increase in PTSS.

So people who go through disasters experience negative mental health consequences both from direct stress and repeated exposure to disasters. In other words, some people become more susceptible to psychological symptoms with each disaster.

And due to climate change, natural disasters will become even more frequent and severe over the coming decades. Wildfires, floods, hurricanes and more are all expected to increase in frequency and severity. And the timing and location of these events is becoming less predictable. 

That’s why it’s important for emergency managers and first responders to take into account the possible negative impact of natural disasters on mental health and interfere whenever possible. Here’s how you can help your community decrease the negative effect of natural disasters on people’s mental health:

Start by reaching out to your community mental health service organizations and determine the best ways to help them inform your community before a disaster strikes:

  • You might ask them to communicate the possible negative effect of natural disasters on mental health and create materials that can be communicated through the alert system, using links and phone numbers. 
  • Leverage mental health organizations’ sites and social media accounts and your own local government website and social media. Ask local mental health providers to include links to your signup page and website, while you promote their online presence.
  • These organizations can also help you to locate people with serious mental illnesses before disaster hits and provide them with needed support during an evacuation. 
  • Monitor the mental health of first responders and recovery workers and refer them to local support organizations. Continue to follow up with them after traumatic events and remember that recovery can take months and even years.

Here are some other useful resources both for first responders and survivors:

  1. Behavioral Health Resources | SAMHSA….
  2. Crisis Text Line – ResponderStrong 
  3. Help Line | Frontline Responder Services (frontlinerehab.com)
  4. Lifeline (suicidepreventionlifeline.org)
  5. Emotional Recovery | Disaster Relief | Red Cross
  6. Lifeline (988lifeline.org)
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