How Disasters Affect Your Mental Health

Life is not a breeze. It’s true that life is beautiful but it sure is not easy. You may be oblivious to the many woes of living in your childhood but you gradually realize how difficult it is to even just survive once you enter your teens and early adulthood. There is no turning back by then and you have to face adulting head on. And most of the time, we are actually able to get our act together. Things start to go downhill, though, once disaster strikes and you are forced out of your comfort zone at short notice.

Aside from requiring medical assistance from possible physical injuries sustained and needing financial aid in the rebuilding of their homes and in the provision of their basic needs, their mental health should not be entirely ignored too even if they do not verbalize their problems or show it to others. Most people think about nothing else but their family’s safety during emergencies and brush aside whatever hesitations they may have. However, they have no choice but to face the music later on and that’s when they realize they are not the same person anymore.

“Allowing people to talk through their conditions can help in the immediate aftermath of a disaster, when many survivors will experience shock and grief,”says Dr Florence Baingana, Mental Health Specialist at WHO Sierra Leone. “Allowing people to express their feelings and helping them to identify their coping mechanisms and coping resources can offer relief, and help prevent more severe conditions from occurring.”

The nurses engage the survivors in groups and in individual sessions with messages of hope and relief. They also conduct physical assessments and refer those with critical needs to existing services and resources where they can continue to receive help, including from the country’s three practicing psychiatrists. However, mental health needs also evolve, and some weeks after the initial shock has passed more severe disorders can often become apparent, Dr. Baingana explains.


People often show symptoms of distress during and after disasters although not everyone needs medical treatment for it. After all, everyone copes differently but that does not mean they should not receive the medical support they need in case they truly need it. It is doubly more important for these survivors to take care of their mental health because they need it in order to be able to rebuild their lives and pick up from where they left.

Immediately after a natural disaster, it’s normal to experience fear, anxiety, sadness or shock. However, if these symptoms continue for weeks to months following the event, they may indicate a more serious psychological issue.

The disaster mental health problem most commonly studied by psychologists and psychiatrists is post-traumatic stress disorder, which can occur after frightening events that threaten one’s own life and the lives for family and friends.

Following a disaster, people might lose their jobs or be displaced from their homes. This can contribute to depression, particularly as survivors attempt to cope with loss related to the disaster. It’s not easy to lose sentimental possessions or face economic uncertainties. People facing these challenges can feel hopeless or in despair.


Humans, by nature, are resilient. However, many people are starting to succumb to post-traumatic stress over the years. Perhaps, it is because we are facing stronger and more destructive disasters now that it has made coping twice as more difficult. Even regular days are unusually hot or cold depending on where you live in the globe. It is usually the thought of moving forward after suffering from a traumatic experience that puts a bigger mental strain to survivors especially when the damage is too much for them to bear. And with a disaster as deadly and destructive like Hurricane Harvey or Irma, the government should look into putting more emphasis on taking care of the mental health of the people so they are able to rebuild their lives despite the hardships they faced even without outside help.

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