The lingering trauma of natural disasters

All around the world, communities and people are struggling to cope with natural disasters. For thousands of people, it is the hundreds of wildfires burning through parts of Western Canada, for others, it’s the looming hurricane heading for Hawaii. And for others still, the trauma is lingering a year later from hurricanes, flooding, fires or other disasters.

A natural disaster is a traumatic event and trauma can leave behind emotional scars long after the physical repairs have been done. One example of this was illustrated through an AccuWeather article this week, chronicling the trauma symptoms felt by Hurricane Harvey survivors a year later.

“Harvey was a terrible storm that affected people, especially by flooding, that had never been disaster survivors,” said Dr. Charles Figley, the Tulane University Paul Henry Kurzweg, MD Distinguished Chair in Disaster Mental Health and director of the university’s Traumatology Institute.

“What is not reported is the universal traumatic stress survivors feel long after the floodwaters go away,” Figley told AccuWeather. Frequent reported symptoms include fear of water, rain, flooding and anything associated with them, according to Figley. Sufferers also experience disturbed sleep, fatigue, impatience, anger, anxiety, discouragement and lack of hope.

In some cases, survivors of trauma can develop PTSD, but it’s difficult to determine when those symptoms will arise, some people feel fine at first only to develop PTSD later on.

In general, survivors of natural disasters are recommended to seek professional help if they find they continue to suffer from the effects of PTSD for more than a month. But what can we do in the meantime when something like trauma is taking over our minds? Simply put, we change our minds.

“We change our minds by putting feelings into words. Doing this develops important neural networks in the brain that help to integrate trauma. Understanding our feelings, tolerating our feelings, and being able to communicate them with significant people in our lives is often a culmination of all the steps of healing.” — Kim Barthel from ‘Conversations with a Rattlesnake’

If you are struggling with a trauma, whether it be from a natural disaster or otherwise, please feel free to continue this conversation with us on social media. In addition, continue to browse our website for more resources on trauma and healing.

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