November 3, 2012
With the recent devastation from Hurricane Sandy, one of the worst storms in U.S. History, I thought of the impact the storm has taken on the mental health of those that were in the path of the storm. How does one cope when everything is lost or destroyed by a natural disaster? How can a person survive the trauma of witnessing the destruction in their community, or Worse Yet, if the Life of a Loved One is Lost? How do you survive when your basic needs of shelter, food and water, are not being met?
The questions I ask are difficult to answer. The answers may be different for each individual. It is important that people who have been victims of a natural disaster get the help they need. I have pondered these questions and will attempt to answer them from my perspective and from what I have learned while considering the answers.
How Does One Cope When Everything is Lost or Destroyed by a Natural Disaster?
The answer to this question is probably different for everyone. Different because each individual is unique. The coping skills one person has may be not be the same as another person. Despite the differences, there are some suggestions that may be helpful for everyone. First, be tolerant of what others are experiencing, try not to dwell on the event or disaster, recognize and accept your feelings and the emotions your are experiencing. Anger, sadness, fear and helplessness are all normal reactions. It is important to talk about your feelings in order to begin the healing process. Losing everything is devastating and coping with it may seem impossible but do not give up. In time, with help and support, things get better.
How Does One Survive the Trauma of Witnessing the Destruction in their Community, or Worse Yet, if the Life of a Loved One is Lost?
The post-traumatic stress that occurs after a natural disaster is tremendous. It may take years to overcome. It is for this reason that you should be patient and recognize that surviving is going to be a long and difficult process. Being proactive will help you. Yes, it will take others helping others to survive. Destruction in a community will hopefully pull the community together. It takes many individuals to build or rebuild a community. Connecting with others can ease the feelings of helplessness. Trauma is something that can not be overcome alone. When loved ones are lost, it seems unbearable. Recognize that grieving is a process and recognize that it will take time to heal and be able to reach a place of hopefulness.
How Do You Survive When Your Basic Needs of Shelter, Food and Water are Not Being Met?
This is a difficult situation because we can not survive without having our basic needs met. In times of disaster, it is critical that outside sources are able to provide for the needs of the individuals, who are affected by the natural disaster. Depending on the situation, it may take time to reach the community, who has experienced the disaster. When preparation is possible, there is often a supply on hand of food and water so food and water are usually provided as soon as possible. But if your shelter is gone, I can imagine the hopelessness. Rebuilding a community takes time but so often the people in the community rise up to the occasion and reach out to others that are in greater need than they are.
Although I, personally, have not experienced the devastation that many have experienced due to a natural disaster, I have directly experienced the aftermath of hurricanes. It may take years to overcome such devastation both materially and mentally. However, there is hope and hope is what has to keep you going.
There is so much to cover on the topic of natural disasters and mental health. I barely scratch the surface in this post. I encourage you to share your comments and experiences as that helps bring better understanding and can help others as well.
ADDITIONAL READING AND RESOURCES: