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Hurricane Ian will continue causing damage long after the power is fully back on, gas lines disappear and building repairs are complete.
For many, such natural disasters can trigger a continuing sense of anxiety and depression or worsen long-simmering mental illnesses, mental health experts say. The effects, if left untreated, can linger for years.
Simply put, it’s traumatic being displaced from a home, losing treasured belongings and, in some cases, losing a job because of a storm.
“A lot of people are feeling overwhelmed and having to rebuild and repair, in some situations, their entire lives or even just feeling shocked living without power,” Laura Guarino, a clinical manager at mental health provider SalusCare, previously told USA TODAY. “People who have mental health disorders are even more at risk because they have fewer coping skills.”
Sometimes it can take weeks for a natural disaster to have an emotional impact, said J. Brian Houston, director of the Disaster and Community Crisis Center at the University of Missouri.
“Right after the storms, we’ll often see a honeymoon phase in survivors, who say ‘We’re OK, we survived, everything’s going to be OK, we’re going to be able to rebuild, we’re resilient, we’re strong, we’re going to come together as a community,” Houston told USA TODAY after 2017’s Hurricane Irma. “But what we see in disaster after disaster is the reality sets in about the challenges of rebuilding or not knowing if you can rebuild or waiting to get your job back or finding a new job.”
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America offers some strategies for coping with hurricanes and similar natural disasters:
- Create a plan: Being prepared can help reduce anxiety before, during and after a big storm. Make a plan to evacuate and put together preparedness kits.
- Be informed: Keep a close eye on weather information and warnings. That may help you gain a sense of control over the situation.
- Talk it out: Don’t be afraid to talk about your fears with family members, friends, a counselor, or others who can offer emotional support.
- Accept what you can’t control: Nobody can control the path of a storm or its damage. Excessive worry will not change anything except your emotional well-being.
Experts also suggest cutting back on news stories about the storm and going back to one’s daily routine (as much as possible). Eating properly, getting enough sleep and exercising also greatly help.
Beyond that, consider doing something positive. That may mean donating blood, preparing care packages, or volunteering. If anxiety persists for weeks, it may be a sign it’s time to seek help.
GET TEXT UPDATES: Sign up here for text updates on Hurricane Ian.
IAN TRACKER: Where is Ian headed? See the map.
BEFORE AND AFTER: A look at Ian’s damage.
Contributing: Frank Gluck