Disasters like hurricane Matthew can lead to PTSD, depression, other mental disorders

Disasters like hurricane Matthew can lead to PTSD, depression, other mental disorders

As the “big bad beast,” hurricane Matthew, pounds the coastal Florida after devastating neighboring island nations, including Haiti, Cuba and the Bahamas, the state has already started preparing itself for the long-term impact of the catastrophe. Said to be one of the biggest storms in a century, Matthew – a category 3 hurricane with winds blowing at up to 120 mph – lashed the central coast of Florida early morning on October 7.

A day before, President Barack Obama had declared a state of emergency in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. That saw government agencies encouraging large-scale evacuation to safer areas. The federal and state agencies were quick to initiate disaster relief efforts. Not days, or weeks, but it may take months for the badly affected areas to return to normalcy.

Blame it on global warming or some other factor, natural disasters have been devastating swathes of countries and continents for long. The loss of life and property in such calamities is immense. People lose their living, homes, and their loved ones. The trauma leaves a deep scar on the survivors’ minds. Many overcome it with time, but some find it difficult to come out of the traumatic situation, deeply etched on their minds. For them it is extremely tough to win over the feelings of devastation that come after watching their loved ones die or seeing their homes swept away. It takes a toll on their mental health.

Such traumas can cause post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety disorder, insecurity and related ailments. It is, therefore, important to factor in the mental health of victims, including of first responders, when taking measures to rebuild lives.

Mental illnesses that can occur post-disaster

According to the Australian Psychological Society, there is staggering evidence that disasters can cause a range of posttraumatic mental health issues. Though the storm will pass and media will soon focus on other issues, but for survivors the trauma will persist. The Mental Health America (MHA) even lists out a range of symptoms as well as actions that one can take to mitigate effects of a calamity.

The first reaction of anyone who has been through such a crisis is shock and denial. Victims can also experience PTSD, which involves constantly reliving the traumatic event, avoidance of anything that reminds them of the catastrophe, panic attacks, extreme stress, anxiety and feeling numb. Such feelings can arise even after months have passed. For PTSD to be diagnosed, these symptoms must continue for almost a month and cause obstruction in daily life.

Children who are involved in such crisis can experience aggravated insecurity. Though adults can feel insecure too and may obsessively prepare for the next disaster, it is the young ones who are affected the most. Some may experience depression or anxiety disorder. They can have difficulty in controlling their emotions and have sudden outbursts. A tragic feature of such storms is loss of life. Though grief is a common response, people can suffer for months from what is called complicated grief when they get preoccupied with the loss and are unable to move on.

According to Professor Richard Bryant of the School of Psychology, University of New South Wales, “survivors of massive disasters can report other problems that may not be captured by traditional diagnostic categories. Sleep problems, worry, maladaptive substance use, and interpersonal conflict commonly occur after disasters.”

Do not suffer alone, seek help

Such calamities may worsen the condition of people who are already suffering from some form of mental illness. They might need extra attention and care.

Though our prayers go out to the people who are in the line of fire of hurricane Matthew, loss and crisis can hit anyone at any point of time. If you or someone you know is showing signs of PTSD, depression, anxiety or any other related mental issues, you may reach out to the Florida Mental Health Helpline. You can call at our 24/7 helpline number 866-846-5588 or chat online to find out a good mental health counselor in Florida and learn more about mental disorder treatment in Florida.

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