Psychological Aftermath of Disasters

Hurricanes, tsunamis, tornados, earthquakes, floods, fires … oil spills. Disasters, whether natural or man-made, can take a number of physical tolls on those affected—injuring and killing many—as well as displacing survivors from their homes and communities, and impacting their short- and long-term physical health.

But perhaps the greatest post-disaster impact is the psychological distress such a traumatic event can create. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that after a disaster, it's normal to feel stress, anxiety, sadness, guilt, anger and a bevy of other emotions. Some people have trouble eating, sleeping or concentrating. Those who have lost loved ones, homes or jobs may even develop thoughts of suicide.

According to the Health & Human Services Department's Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration(SAMHSA), there is research to prove that such events can have a psychological impact that is both long-lasting and serious.

Problems can range from post-traumatic stress disorder to substance abuse problems to conduct problems among children, and some of the after-effects may not surface for months or years, according to SAMHSA.

The CDC recommends taking the following actions to help yourself, your family and your community heal after the disruption of a disaster:


  • As much as possible, follow a normal routine.

  • Eat healthily. Don't overeat or skip meals.

  • Exercise regularly.

  • Volunteer around your community and stay busy.

  • Accept help from family, friends and others. Don't be afraid to talk about your feelings.

  • Spend a limited amount of time following news reports of what is happening—and access credible sources to avoid rumors or speculation.

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) also recommends that parents regularly assess their children's emotional well-being by talking with them about their disaster-related fears. The APA suggests discussing your family's ability to cope with tragedy and overcome the disaster, not by minimizing the danger, but by letting them know that in time the tragedy will pass.

Sometimes seeking professional help may be necessary to overcome the feelings that can occur after a disaster wreaks havoc in your life. The CDC suggests talking to a counselor or doctor if you:


  • Can't take care of yourself or your children

  • Can't do your job on a daily basis

  • Use alcohol or drugs to escape your problems

  • Feel sad or depressed for more than two weeks

  • Develop thoughts of suicide

For more information visit the American Psychiatric Association, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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