After the Storm: Coping with the Trauma Caused by Natural Disasters
AmeriHealth Caritas encourages people to acknowledge the emotional impact and seek help
Residents throughout the Southeast are reeling from the physical damage caused by Hurricanes Michael and Florence, focusing on how they will rebuild their homes, communities and lives. While important attention has been given to the immediate emergency response, the sense of shattered safety and loss can also wage a longer-term emotional toll on everyone involved, according to AmeriHealth Caritas, a national leader in health care solutions operating in 15 states and the District of Columbia.
"After hurricanes, we typically see people assessing the physical aftermath of the storm, yet we rarely explore the emotional aftereffects," said Dr. Michael Golinkoff, senior executive for behavioral health at AmeriHealth Caritas. "People need to monitor their mental well-being during what can be a challenging and traumatic experience."
Golinkoff, who has more than 30 years of experience in clinical and developmental psychology, said people, especially children and those most in need, can have greater difficulty readjusting after a hurricane because they have fewer resources – emotionally and financially – to help them bounce back.
"Children are more impressionable whereas adults can put the sense of loss in a different perspective," Golinkoff said, adding that parents and guardians should regularly check in with teachers and caregivers to see if children whose lives have been affected by hurricanes have any changes in behavior or develop mood swings.
"Trillium Health Resources, based in eastern North Carolina, has first-hand experience with the accuracy of Dr. Golinkoff's advice," said Cindy Ehlers, vice president of clinical operations for Trillium. "Following Hurricane Matthew in 2016 we documented a 45 percent increase in the number of children ages 13 and younger accessing mental health services.
"Hurricane Florence has caused even greater dislocation and destruction in our area than Matthew did two years ago and we expect the traumatic impact on children to be more severe and widespread," added Ehlers. "We are here 24/7 to help families in southeastern North Carolina address these challenges."
Golinkoff encourages hurricane survivors to understand that they are not alone and to be open to discussing their fears and frustrations with others. The sense of community that comes from reaching out and connecting with others during traumatic times can be a tremendous help for those in need.
Acknowledge Your Feelings
Simple things, such as the stability of your family and community, can no longer be taken as a given. People have lost personal belongings that can't be replaced, such as photographs and family keepsakes, and, in some cases, people have lost loved ones and friends.
"Everything changes — schools, neighborhoods, friends — which cannot be ignored. It's a shared trauma because your family and others in your community are likely experiencing the same things," Golinkoff said. "It's best to talk about what you're feeling and say that you're sad. We need to let people know that it's okay to grieve a loss. It's okay not to be okay."
People often avoid the topic of mental health out of fear or shame. "It's important that people not retreat into a shell or self-protection mode where they do not want to engage with other people," Golinkoff said. "Recognize any sizeable change within yourself and don't be afraid to talk about it."
Self-care is essential at all times, but even more so when dealing with a traumatic experience. Golinkoff suggests engaging in volunteer opportunities to help fellow neighbors or rebuild parts of your community.
"Engaging the community in restoration efforts is a great way to create pride and self-efficacy," Golinkoff said. "This allows for individuals to show resiliency by taking adversity and showing the best parts of human nature."
About Trillium Health Resources
Trillium Health Resources is a leading specialty care manager (LME/MCO) for individuals with substance use, mental illness and intellectual/ developmental disabilities in 26 counties in eastern North Carolina. Trillium’s mission is to transform the lives of people in need by providing them with ready access to quality care. Trillium can be reached 24/7/365 at www.trilliumhealthresources.org or 1-877-685-2415.