Disaster Affects Mental Health – Help is Available

LINCOLN – A disaster of any size will cause unusual stress in people who have been directly impacted by it, or those who were indirectly impacted like aid workers, media members, and volunteers. It’s important for anyone who finds themselves displaying signs of distress to make sure they’re caring for their mental health.

Each person will react differently to the stress surrounding a disastrous event, and a range of responses to a disaster are normal and to be expected. Emotional responses to disasters can appear immediately or sometimes months later. Understanding what you’re feeling and taking positive steps can help you cope with this disaster.

Common feelings and other responses to disasters:
  • Disbelief and shock
  • Fear and anxiety about the future
  • Disorientation, apathy and emotional numbing
  • Irritability and anger
  • Sadness and depression
  • Feeling powerless
  • Extreme hunger or lack of appetite
  • Difficulty making decisions, also known as decision paralysis
  • Crying for “no apparent reason” or feeling tearful
  • Headaches and stomach problems
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • New or increased drinking, smoking or substance use

Most of these reactions will decrease as time passes and you focus attention on daily activities. Because everyone experiences stress differently, don’t compare your progress with others around you or judge other people’s reactions and emotions.

What You Can Do:
  • Talk about it. Not expressing your feelings will keep you from being able to work through what happened. By talking with others, you will relieve stress and realize that other people share your feelings.
  • Get plenty of rest and exercise. Remember to eat well. Avoid excessive drinking and risk-taking activities.
  • Spend time with your family. If you have any children, encourage them to discuss their concerns and feelings with you.
  • As soon as it feels comfortable or becomes possible, go back to your usual routine.
  • Do things that you find relaxing and soothing.
  • Recall other times you have experienced strong emotions and how they were resolved.
  • Do something positive that will help you gain a greater sense of control (for example, give blood, take a first aid class or donate food or clothing).
  • If you feel overwhelmed by the disaster, ask for help. It’s not a sign of weakness. Talk with a trusted relative, friend, social worker, or clergy member.

If you have strong feelings that won’t go away or if you are troubled for longer than four to six weeks, you may want to seek professional help. People who have existing mental health problems and those who have survived past trauma may also want to check in with a mental health care professional. Being unable to manage your responses to the disaster and resume your regular activities may be symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a real and treatable illness.

Help is available.

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 who are experiencing emotional distress related to any natural or human-caused disaster. This toll-free, multilingual, and confidential crisis support service is available to all residents in the United States and its territories. Stress, anxiety, and other depression-like symptoms are common reactions after a disaster. Call 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746 to connect with a trained crisis counselor.

SAMHSA Disaster Distress Helpline
Website: https://www.samhsa.gov/
Call 1-800-985-5990 or text “TalkWithUs” to 66746 to get help and support 24/7.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Toll-free: 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)
TTY: 1-800-799-4TTY (1-800-799-4889)

SAMHSA Disaster Technical Assistance Center

Toll-free: 1-800-308-3515
Website: https://www.samhsa.gov/dtac

Administration for Children and Families
Website: https://www.acf.hhs.gov

Mental Health America
Website: http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)

Toll-free helpline: 1-800-950-NAMI (1-800-950-6264)

Website: https://www.nami.org


H/T to NTV’s Seth Denney & Colleen Williams @NTVssethandcolleen on Facebook and the Department of Health and Human Services