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  • Writer's pictureVidyasagar Vangala

Natural Disasters and Psychiatric Problems

The United States of America has experienced the greatest amount of natural disasters in 2017 on record. These events can induce anxiety, depression and various other psychiatric issues, even in people who do not have preexisting psychiatric conditions. Being informed ahead of time of a natural disaster enables individuals to prepare and thus experience better outcomes after the disaster has passed. However, the more time individuals have to prepare and think about the disaster, the more anxiety they will likely experience.

With the increase of natural disaster coverage in the media, this anxiety can be increased by constant updates about the course of the disaster and the effects experienced by people already impacted. Another problem becoming more prevalent in social media specifically, is the sharing of incorrect information. When people play the “social media telephone” game, messages can get passed from person to person gaining incorrect interpretations and exaggerations with each click of the share button. Media outlets such as television and radio can then feed off of this anxiety and fascination with these events as they occur and try to carry out the coverage as long as possible.

When a natural disaster is approaching, it is important to adequately prepare (food, water, shelter, other safety precautions). People should also follow important updates from reliable sources like NOAA, but perhaps limit their exposure to news stations and/or social media sites that are only providing negative opinions of the event and not useful information.

Stress is a necessary part of life, and it allows humans to thrive in their environment. Being stressed out by a situation allows individuals to avoid negative consequences and find productive solutions to problems. However, pathologic or abnormal responses to stress can happen after going through something like a natural disaster. Acute stress disorder (ASD) can occur after being exposed to a traumatic event (or a traumatic event happening to someone close to you). In ASD, one can experience intrusive symptoms (flashbacks and nightmares), a change in mood (feeling numb or depressed), dissociation (feeling unattached or a decrease in awareness), avoidance of the subject or location of the traumatic event, and arousal (hyper vigilance, anxiety, increased startle response). To be diagnosed with ASD, symptoms last more than 3 days but less than 1 month. If symptoms last longer than one month, it is considered to be Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). According to the US Department of Veteran Affairs, over 80% of individuals with ASD will progress to PTSD.

If you or anyone you know has gone through traumatic events due to a national disaster and is experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, it is important to seek the help of a certified medical professional. Cognitive behavioral therapy has been shown to be useful in preventing the progression from ASD to PTSD. Seek support and help from family and friends. Openly talk and seek help rather than feeling shy and avoid getting help. It may also be helpful to practice meditative and breathing techniques (one of the few activities that can be completed inside with no electricity) before and after the event to promote relaxation and prevent anxiety.

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