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Mentally Surviving a Hurricane

Hurricane Ian’s devastation took more than a hundred lives and caused immense structural damage. Even for a state like Florida which is no stranger to hurricanes this one was particularly tragic. After the storm passes, the water recedes, and even after the cleanup, a steep emotional toll lingers.

Natural disasters are scary for us humans to contend with. They are no doubt traumatizing. It makes sense that the lead-up and aftermath of a scary, destructive act of nature can have serious consequences on our mental health. These events leave many people with lingering anxiety and even PTSD symptoms long afterwards.

Children and teens, seniors, and emergency/recovery workers are especially susceptible to emotional distress from hurricanes.

After Hurricane Andrew psychiatric patients seeked help for PTSD more than usual. After that disaster they developed anxiety that disrupted their lives at the first threat of particularly inclement weather. Some people even uprooted their lives, relocating to a different climate.

The implications are the same now with Hurricane Ian.

However you may not have to move just yet. With the right preparation and a few mental health tools, the emotional impact of the storm will be significantly less.


First, there’s the period before the storm. This can be wrought with confusion, anxiety, anticipation, and uncertainty. There are two keys here: preparation and communication.

Research the correct actions to take before a hurricane in your circumstances. Maybe you can pull the shutters, clear the fridge, and secure valuables. Depending on your situation perhaps visiting an out of town friend or loved one for the duration is the safest choice. Knowing you’re prepared to the best of your ability does a lot to calm pre-storm anxiety.

Communication is also vital since humans are stronger together. Neighbors can help one another in an emergency, and friends/family can relay useful information. Ask for advice and help when needed.

Also, the news will help keep you informed but too much may trigger catastrophizing.

The next step of a storm is, unfortunately, going through it. This is obviously mentally distressing as the intense sound outside, the windows rattling, and the fear of what might happen are at full force. A tip to help ease the hardship during this time is to prepare with batteries and a handheld radio. It will always work to provide information and up-to-date important information. If there are children present, teach them hurricane emergency procedures and keep them close, reassuring them.  

So now the hurricane has passed. The last stage of this mental health cyclone is learning to cope with emotions afterwards.

Property has been damaged, valuables have been ruined, and even lives have been lost. PTSD and anxiety-based disorders are common after natural disasters. Depression is also common. People suffer intrusive thoughts about the event which can lead to sleep disturbances, mood disruption, lack of focus, and other symptoms. For most these go away after a few weeks but in some cases they linger. This is when they are in danger of turning into something more serious. When this happens it's best to seek professional mental health treatment.

Here are four tips to help after the storm:

  1. Get back to a schedule. Even if it’s waking up each day to clean up or help the community it still helps to eat breakfast, brush your teeth, etc. The structure can be empowering.

  2. Build up and acknowledge the support system available to you. Make sure loved ones are ok, and get involved in helping others.

  3. Take care of yourself with good nutrition, good sleep, and no drugs/alcohol or negative coping mechanisms. These are forms of avoidance which impede recovery after the storm and make the emotional response worse off.

  4. Get help. Sometimes if your life is badly affected it's best to seek professional treatment. Psychiatrists and therapists have experience helping after traumatic events and can help you find a path to recovery.

Bregman Medical Group is based out of South Florida and has decades of experience helping patients through hurricane events. We offer convenient online psychiatry and therapy right to your device - simply schedule an appointment online at www.bregmanmd.com or call 305-740-3340.

References:

https://www.ncei.noaa.gov/news/hurricanes-take-heavy-toll-mental-health-survivors

https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/disaster-distress-helpline/disaster-types/hurricanes-tropical-storms

https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/health-wellness/2022/09/30/hurricane-ian-mental-health-struggles/8135291001/



By BregmanMD | October 09, 2022 | Mental Health

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