The Mindset of Harvey: Understanding Mental Health and Natural Disasters

Flooded streets, lost pets, destroyed homes, abandoned cars, homes under water, crying babies…. These are all the images we have seen on the news, our neighborhoods, or even inside our own homes. These vulnerable images are being played over and over for the world to see. Houston is now being put under a microscope, being judged, looked at, and misunderstood. However, there is one part of this scenario that will not be televised. In fact, it will be brushed over briefly and not be prioritized, and that is the mental health of the survivors.

I am writing this blog on day 4 of Hurricane Harvey, and the only emotion I have been constantly hearing and witnessing is overwhelming feelings of numbness, anger, depression, and in some cases acceptance. Houston is in a state of shock, and we do not quite know how to feel. This disaster is still processing in our minds and we are in state of disbelief. Did this really just happen? Am I really homeless? Has everything that I have worked for just get washed away? So many questions with answers we are not ready to address. Being in sense of denial, and though we see others dealing with the same disaster, we are still toiling with our own feelings of isolation and loneliness. Millions of Houstonians are about to go through the stages of grief at the same time and in different ways.

So as you sit in your home looking around at all your belongings under water, or in a shelter looking at strangers that are dealing with similar circumstances, in a friend’s home taking shelter, in your yard picking up clothes from your front lawn, or next door helping a neighbor…. I need you to know that you are not alone. That means these thoughts and feelings you are holding in… do not ignore. This blog was not written to make you, the reader, feel better or “happy”, but rather an acknowledgement that I….we….Houston have some idea of what you are feeling and that you’re not alone.

The American Psychological Association defines trauma as “an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster.” However, that trauma is not only about the event but rather by one’s reactions to it and the symptoms. Any painful or overwhelming experience can cause trauma and that trauma (Hurricane Harvey) is only recognizable by its symptoms.

As Babbel (2010), stated the most immediate and typical reaction to a natural disaster is shock, which at first manifest as numbness or denial. Quickly or eventually shock can give way to an overemotional state that often includes high levels of anxiety, guilt, and even depression.

The American Psychological Association stated that the following are common symptoms of trauma:

• Feelings become intense and sometimes are unpredictable. Irritability, mood swings, anxiety, and depression are coming manifestations of this.
• Flashbacks: repeated and vivid memories of the event that lead to physical reactions such as rapid heartbeat or sweating
• Confusion or difficulty making decisions
• Sleep or eating issues
• Fear that the emotional event will be repeated
• A change in interpersonal relationships skills, such as an increase in conflict or a more withdrawn and avoidant personality
• Physical symptoms such as headaches, nausea, and chest pain

Do any of these symptoms sound familiar? Some survivors of Hurricane Harvey will seem at first perfectly fine, actually a little “too fine”, but these people can be beset with symptoms later on.

So what am I saying, why am I writing this blog? Well… my fellow Houstonians… my fellow Hurricane Harvey survivors… I am too a survivor. A person that has experienced this disaster, but also a person that wants to help. We, survivors of this horrible disaster, are recommended to seek professional guidance if we find ourselves unable to regain control of our lives.

In the upcoming weeks, I will attempt to update you on resources and coping techniques to help yourself and others.

Citations:

http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/recovering-disasters.aspx

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/somatic-psychology/201004/the-trauma-arises-natural-disasters

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