By Aleeza Chaudhry
October 11th, 2017
“But with such catastrophes come a lasting impact on mental health that may take much longer to diminish – post-trauma/disaster stress.“
In light of hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, the recent monsoon floods in South Asia, and the earthquakes in Mexico, an international focus has been shifted to the catastrophic nature of such disasters and their long-term mental health effects.
Natural disasters have inspired local and national governments to create and amplify existing mitigation programs, like the Federal Emergency Management Agency, in an effort to maximize preparedness for any future tragedies.
However, it is heartbreaking to realize that no matter how prepared a nation is for a natural disaster, it is never enough to stop the debilitating effects.
People across the globe have jumped to contribute to recovery efforts. Celebrities and numerous NGOs have together donated millions and the numbers are still to rise.
The money will hopefully be invested in rebuilding homes and institutions, restoring jobs, and providing emergency medical treatment for casualties.
Locals are working hand in hand with agencies, as seen in Mexico City after the earthquake, to remove rubble, rescue survivors, and help accelerate the path to recovery.
Undoubtedly, all these selfless acts of community empowerment are bound to help those in need get back on their feet as quickly as possible.
But with such catastrophes come a lasting impact on mental health that may take much longer to diminish – post-trauma/disaster stress.
Survivors are often left asking “What now?”
To see your home and neighborhood get completely destroyed before your eyes, to see the lives of your loved ones being taken away and to realize just how helpless man is in the face of natural disasters takes an extremely heavy toll on mental health.
Survivors must learn to shape their lives according to their new conditions and are often left asking “What now?”
Few will have the privilege to return to their homes, and those that do seldom have access to basic needs such as running water and electricity.
Survivors who evacuate and move elsewhere have to decide where to move, for how long, and how to restart their new lives in their new homes.
One of the biggest issues at hand is who is going to pay for all the expenses. To contact insurance companies and prepare claims for all lost property can be nerve-wracking, especially if documentation was lost to the disaster.
Agencies like FEMA offer financial support, but oftentimes it isn’t enough to follow a proper recovery.
Above the financial stress is the emotional toll disasters take by tearing apart memories.
Family pictures, home videos, stuffed animals, journals, and books often have such a deep connection with the family. For the survivor, these lost possessions might make moving on so much harder.
Even more difficult is coping with the loss of loved ones who die during the impact of the disaster. In cities completely destroyed by these catastrophes, proper burial services and funeral arrangements may not immediately exist.
Many people find themselves seeking medical attention after thoughts of suicide and guilt come to mind.
When disaster strikes survivors must choose how to react.
Survivors are usually of work and school, making the transition to recovery even more disabling. Some schools relocate temporary classrooms, but needless to say, the education being provided is watered down.
When disaster strikes survivors must choose how to react. Whether they allow it to take control of their lives and define them or pretend it never happened and move on, it takes an immense toll on their mental state.
Survivors are often recommended to seek counseling to help understand what will and will not help the wounds heal faster.
Talking to others like them can help build a community of understanding and self-growth.
In moments like these, it is crucial that we not only aim at reconstructing neighborhoods and homes, but also take the mental well-being of survivors into account.