Coping with Natural Disasters

Over the past few years we have coped with a variety of Natural Disasters; Hurricanes like Andrew and Katrina still leave their marks and remain a vivid memory. 2011 tornadoes sliced through much of the Midwest, leaving devastation in their wake. Mother Nature is unpredictable and the best we can do is to prepare. Several websites offers tips on how to minimize possible physical, economic, mental and emotional effects of trauma caused by the destruction natural disasters.

Severe weather has devastated communities across the country. Several websites offers tips on how to minimize possible physical, economic, mental and emotional effects of trauma caused by the destruction natural disasters.

This brief article will focus on preparing for the potential emotional and mental effects of a disaster like a hurricane.

While preparing for a storm related natural disaster, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) web site,

http://www.fema.org/, suggests:

  1. Prepare for the disaster by assembling an emergency first aid kit, stocking food and water, securing your home and belongings, making arrangements for pets should you need to leave your home immediately, and following evacuation instructions as they are issued. Placing items in waterproof storage boxes may protect them from flooding. Consider placing passports, social security cards and other important documents in a Ziploc bag and store in a secure location. Make sure you take this bag of documents with you when you evacuate.
  2. Staying connected to your community can be comforting during a natural disaster. Listen to the radio or television for weather updates and stay in touch with your family and neighbors concerning evacuation orders. I recommend to my clients to limit their exposure to news coverage of the disaster in other areas. That information can be traumatic.
  3. Name a meeting place for the family to meet in case you are separated during the disaster. Select a family member or friend outside the area that your family can call to say they are OK. Don’t forget very often phone and cell service can be interrupted for an extended period of time following a disaster. Having a meeting place may be the best way to reunite with family members. ATM’s and credit card machines will not work. Make sure you have a reasonable amount of cash on hand.
  4. Natural disasters can be traumatizing. Many people but not all experience some emotional distress when faced with aspects of the disaster. In general the more devastating the event the greater the risk for psychiatric symptoms. Make sure you have an extended supply of necessary medications including psychotropic medication. Depending on the level of devastation you may not be able to stay in contact with your behavioral health provider. It is important for you to have the numbers to your local crisis line and hospital to use as a resource.
  5. Use your common sense. It is natural to be curious about the level of damage your community suffered. However, stay out of heavily damaged areas. Often these areas are still dangerous and can cause you greater harm.
  6. Too often the desire to stay informed becomes re-traumatizing. Limit your exposure to disaster coverage. Make sure the information you are getting comes from a credible source.
  7. Your children need to know what is real. They need to know that the family will work through this disaster. Things will be difficult. Things will change. With open communication the family can mediate many problems created by the stress of working through a disaster.
  8. Keep talking about your feelings. Many times after a disaster there is a broad range of emotions from being numb to depression, anxiety, anger, feelings of helplessness. These feelings are a normal reaction to trauma
  9. If your feelings of anxiety, depression, anger or fear continue do not hesitate to seek professional advice.
  10. Keep moving forward. At times there is a desire to continue to stay focused in the past. Reliving the disaster makes it harder to see the hope in the future. Talking about the disaster with a therapist can help you to move forward and stay hopeful of a brighter tomorrow.

For additional information and safety tips regarding storm related disasters, including hurricanes, visit the American Red Cross’ Web site at: http://www.redcross.org/disaster/safety/guide.html

Or the Federal Emergency Management Agency website at: http://www.fema.gov/pdf/areyouready/areyouready_full.pdf

The information contained on the Global Therapy Web site is not intended as, and is not, a substitute for professional medical advice. All decisions about medical care should be made in consultation with your treating physician. Decisions about psychiatric care should be made in consultation with your behavioral health provider.