PTSD Can Affect Survivors Of Natural Disasters, by Cristina Goyanes (Men’s Health)



I found this article that is very relevant for our weekly theme of Surviving Disasters. I repost it here in lieu of our usual Thursday Guest Blog:.

Do You Have PTSD And Not Know It?  How Hurricane Sandy put you at risk

By Cristina Goyanes for Men’s Health (Prevention News / control/click to access original article, or )

The phrase “post-traumatic stress disorder,” or PTSD, usually conjures images of combat zones and car accidents—not Frankenstorm-smashed communities.

But the truth is, any life-threatening event, including natural disasters, can trigger the condition. Evidence of this dates as far back as the Great London Fire in 1666. And in the wake of Hurricane Sandy’s destructive impact across the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic in late October, many people, especially those who are still displaced or living without heat or electricity, may be showing symptoms of the disorder.


“Regardless of the type of traumatic event—be it a rape or a hurricane—the symptoms that follow are similar,” says Spencer Eth, MD, a psychiatry professor at the University of Miami and associate chief of staff of mental health at the Miami Veterans Affairs Healthcare System. “Feeling bad after a natural disaster is called being human; it’s normal to be angry, irritable, and anxious. But if you start to feel worse over a certain period of time, don’t ignore it.” (To learn more about different types of anxiety disorders, check out our helpful guide.)

Take Hurricane Katrina survivors, for example. “Research shows that people who waited a long time to feel relatively safe again—meaning they had more difficulty finding refuge and taking care of their basic needs—tended to develop PTSD,” Dr. Eth says.

Your move: Keep track of how you feel for one month in the aftermath. If each day starts to feel a little better, you may be in the clear, says Robin Kerner, PhD, a psychologist who is trained in psychological first aid response to disasters and works at Manhattan’s St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital. The likelihood of developing PTSD is not high (about 30%), unless you’ve experienced previous trauma in your life (i.e., child abuse, war tours) or have a history of mental illness.

There’s also a slight chance you might have a delayed reaction, not expressing symptoms until months or years later. Kerner’s best advice: Practice what she calls the Grandma Cure. “Eat right, exercise, get a good night’s sleep—all those things our grandma and mother told us to do are good for our mental health,” she says. “Also, focus on creating new traditions and new routines to help cope over the holidays.”

Sandy survivors: If by late November or early December you’re experiencing any of the symptoms described by Dr. Eth and Dr. Kerner, talk to your doctor.

You can’t turn off instant replay It’s normal to re-hash a horrific event (like watching your things float away in water) in nightmares or flashbacks. But when you’re constantly seeing, hearing, and smelling frightening things as if they were happening all over again, you might have a problem. It doesn’t help that your TV keeps showing devastating footage of the event. Do yourself a favor: Change the channel, both on the tube and in your mind.

You refuse to return to the scene of the crime After 9/11, lots of people stopped flying. The same reaction applies for Sandy victims: You may not want to return to where your house once stood or rebuild your home to make it habitable again. Sure, it’s easy to want to pick up and start fresh somewhere else and never set foot on the beach or boardwalk that reminds you of the catastrophe. But emotional numbness and avoidance will not help you cope with the situation, or truly move on. Face the facts, and if you can’t, don’t isolate yourself—try to stay as socially connected as possible.

You feel ready to blow a fuse You’re not sleeping well. You can’t concentrate. You’re feeling extra jumpy and on-edge. It’s normal to feel these things if you’re tired, hungry, have no heat or power, and can’t fill your gas tank without waiting in a ridiculous 2-hour line. But if you continue to feel bad and pessimistic about your future, talk to your doc.