By DR. JAMES E. HUSSEY | Medical Director, LDH Office of Behavioral Health
Tropical weather in the Gulf this week has us on our toes, ready to spring into action if things get nasty. While here in Louisiana we’re always ready for the possibility of high winds and torrential rains, we usually look to the practical side of things: Did we stock up on food and water? Is the generator ready to go?
Those things are undeniably important, but it’s also a good idea to be prepared mentally and emotionally. Natural events such as a storm can unfold in minutes to hours, yet the feelings and emotions they evoke can linger for weeks, months and even years after.
Psychological preparedness can help you think logically and wisely during and after disasters, helping to keep you physically safe while also weathering the emotional storm.
Disaster-related stress can affect anyone, but some people may be more vulnerable than others. They may include those with disabilities, existing mental health issues, children, the elderly and those who have been previously impacted by floods, hurricanes and other disasters.
Recognizing disaster-related stress
FEMA has some online resources aimed at coping with disaster. First, it is important to be able to recognize signs and symptoms of disaster-related stress, and to seek counseling or assistance. According to FEMA, some symptoms may include:
- Difficulty communicating thoughts
- Difficulty sleeping
- Difficulty maintaining balance in their lives
- Low threshold of frustration
- Increased use of drugs/alcohol
- Limited attention span
- Poor work performance
- Headaches/stomach problems
- Tunnel vision/muffled hearing
- Colds or flu-like symptoms
- Disorientation or confusion
- Difficulty concentrating
- Reluctance to leave home
- Depression, sadness
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Mood swings and easy bouts of crying
- Overwhelming guilt and self-doubt
It’s OK to seek help
If disaster-related stress starts wearing you down, it’s perfectly normal and OK to ask for help. Here are some helpful resources:
- The Disaster Distress Helpline, 1-800-985-5990, is a 24/7, 365-day-a-year national hotline dedicated to providing immediate crisis counseling for people those in emotional distress related to any natural or human-caused disaster.
- The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK.
- For non-emergencies, check the Office of Behavioral Health directory for local community behavioral health services in Louisiana.
- The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has a Disaster Kit for recovery workers, which includes wallet cards, guides for parents, caregivers, teachers and others. There is also a SAMHSA Disaster App.
Contact your primary care doctor and/or your insurance plan for referrals to behavioral health specialists.
Physical and emotional health
FEMA also recommends that you take steps to promote your own physical and emotional health and healing by healthy eating, rest, exercise, relaxation and perhaps even meditation. It is important to maintain a normal family routine as much as possible and to lean on your existing support groups of family, friends and religious institutions.
For many people, having a disaster supply kit stocked and a family disaster plan ready is a great comfort. When the storm comes, you’ll be ready to go. For more information, click here.