Recovering mentally from disaster

Name a storm or disaster and any survivor can probably tell you where they were and the damage they experienced. Each year on the anniversary of major storms, stories of tragedy and triumph come pouring out.

One year after Isaac, and Sixth Street in Spanish Town looks like it always had. But during that storm, a huge tree collapsed, damaging buildings and power lines.  That's the funny thing about physical damage though; it's pretty easy to repair. What's harder to assess is the mental damage which can take a toll even years after a hurricane.

"On the one had you're more resilient. On the other hand it can be much more difficult for someone who is fatigued by those feelings that come back," said Dr. Anthony Speier, Assistant Secretary of Behavior Health for the Department of Health and Hospitals.

Major storms can be extremely stressful. People can begin to feel anxious or panicked when faced with overwhelming preparations.  But those feelings can linger even after the rains stop, and reemerge later.

"People may start changing their eating habits or they may stop sleeping as much as they use to sleep," said Speier. "They may start smoking again, something to deal with the anxiety, trying to come to terms with, 'what are these feelings I'm having?'"

However, in the wake of disaster there is a resource for those struggling called Louisiana Spirit.  It's a temporary federally-funded crisis counseling program that is available for about a year and a half after a major disaster.

"They've delivered over 160,000 services over the last year, direct services one on one with people in the areas," said Speier.

Counselors work with kids, families or individuals one on one to help people process any emotional stress they feel during recovery.  Counselors say the important thing is not to bury your feelings, and seek help when you need it. Other tips from DHH include:

  • Speak with someone about your feelings and emotions.
  • Don't hold yourself responsible for the disastrous event.
  • Stay active in your daily life patterns, remain healthy both mentally and physically.
  • Use existing support groups of family, friends and religious affiliations.

Speier says you can also prepare mentally ahead of a storm by making sure you have your emergency plan in place.  He suggests getting the whole family involved in the planning, even turn it into a fun game for the kids.  Speier says if everyone is involved and knows what to do when a storm hits, there is less anxiety.

For more information on Louisiana Spirit, click here.

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