Dr. Escabi: The emotional impact of disaster

Dr. Escabi: The emotional impact of disaster

In the wake of Hurricane Florence, I struggled with the idea of writing something related to the storm.

I figured that people must be saturated, overwhelmed and tired of all the hurricane talk after weeks of waiting, preparing, suffering through and recovering from this force of nature. But the fact is that if we are all to get up, dust ourselves off and start walking again, we need to make sure that we’re well aware of our emotional condition and the condition of those around us.

Lots of people are reluctant to acknowledge their emotional setbacks, and even those that do are often times self-conscious enough about feeling a certain way that they are hard pressed to share it with anyone. But as I usually tell patients in those situations, if you had chest pain you’d tell your doctor in a heartbeat (pun intended) because you know your heart may be in danger.

Your doctor will hear about shortness of breath really quickly because there may be something wrong with your lungs. If you burn when you go to the bathroom, you won’t hesitate to go see someone because you know you may have a bladder or a kidney infection. All those are body organs, same as your brain. In fact, none of your organs will work if your brain isn’t working, so anything that affects your brain affects all of you. Emotional problems are health problems that need to be taken care of.

I write this because disasters like we just experienced, and some people are still experiencing, can take a large tole on our emotional health. If the stress is severe enough, this experience could lead to conditions like Adjustment Disorder or, in some extreme cases, even Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. For people with preexisting conditions, it could trigger the sudden worsening of insomnia, depression, anxiety, and the like.

Some signs to look for that may indicate emotional conditions related to disaster are if you, or someone you know, develop any changes to usual behavior, excessive sadness, problems sleeping, changes in appetite, short temper or less patience, changes in sleep patterns, crying spells, increased worry, thoughts of hurting yourself or others, decrease in doing enjoyable things, getting scared or startled easier, sudden quietness or withdrawal from spending time with other people, memory or increased forgetfulness, just to name a few.

Please keep in mind that these symptoms do not always show up during or immediately after the traumatic event. In conditions like Adjustment Disorder or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, issues may arise, weeks, months or even years later, so it is very important that we tackle any changes in behavior early on.

Treatment for these conditions isn’t always medication, although in some cases it may be part of the treatment. Sometimes talking to a professional and getting an outside perspective on our thoughts is all it takes.

If this article helps you see that you are experiencing some unusual emotional stress, or if you know someone who is going through a situation like this, please contact your primary care provider or encourage them to do so, as your primary doctor may be able to either help you overcome your condition or get you in touch with the best resource available to do so. Some other local resources that may help in these situations are Port Human Services and Eastpointe.

Sri Mulyani Indrawati said: “When we rebuild a house, we are rebuilding a home. When we recover from disaster, we are rebuilding lives and livelihoods.” Remember that when we rebuild ourselves after we’ve been affected by a disaster, we can’t just patch up the outside, we also need to make sure that our mind and our soul are taken care of as well.

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