For some Sandy victims, the ordeal is far from over even a year later, if they are among those suffering long-lasting mental health problems in the wake of the superstorm.
A Gallup poll taken shortly after Sandy showed a significant increase in cases of depression in those areas hit hardest by the storm. Among the most affected zip codes, the diagnosis of depression had gone up 25 percent compared to before Sandy.
While the longer-term extent of the psychological damage is less clear, lessons learned from previous natural disasters can help in response to Sandy-related psychiatric issues.
- The prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder is higher among people who were directly exposed to the natural disaster. The influence of PTSD on a person’s life may be substantial. The National Center for PTSD checklist for possible symptoms that may include mood swings, anxiety, depression, flashbacks, trouble sleeping, withdrawal from or avoidance of friends or family, and other negative feelings or behaviors.
- Low-income parents (especially single mothers) and low-income minorities suffer from the highest level of stress, which may endure over time. A study published in Psychological Medicine in 2008 found that low-income individuals are the most vulnerable to mental stress while facing the challenges of getting back on their feet after disasters, because they have very limited financial resources and do not get needed help in time.
- PTSD doesn’t “just go away” over time. Previous studies of the mental effects of destructive hurricanes found that the prevalence of PTSD, especially symptoms of avoidance, increased over the years among hurricane victims.
- First-responders and rescue workers undergo the mental and emotional effects of trauma too. Professionals whose job is fighting danger, treating victims, and providing help and consolation can feel negative psychological effects, with symptoms of what is known as “vicarious traumatization” possibly including anxiety, depression, intrusive thoughts and feelings, avoidance, emotional numbing and flooding, and increased feelings of vulnerability.
Resources for Getting Help
Some believe community mental health centers and local health services should put more resources into relieving psychological distress among community members in the time to come. But what can you do as an individual and as a community in the meantime to help yourself or others suffering Sandy-related PTSD?
- Contact the Disaster Distress Helpline for assistance or information by calling 1-800-985-5990 or texting ‘TalkWithUs’ to 66746. The helpline offers 24/7 multilingual crisis-support services to people who are experiencing emotional distress related to natural or man-made disasters.
- Go to Project Hope. The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has launched Project Hope to provide free crisis counseling to New York City residents experiencing emotional distress as a result of Sandy. More information can be found at its website.
- Find like-minded people. Sandy victims can form community groups to initiate a healing process from the inside. People who are suffering the most are the ones who understand the pain the best and whose voices really count. Strong group work can help mitigate stress, reduce isolation, and even contribute to more effective policy-making.
Other resources providing mental health support for Sandy victims include The Mental Health Association, the New York City government web site and the New Jersey MentalHealthCares Helpline (1-866-202-HELP).
What other resources have you found helpful, or feel are needed? Are you suffering from post-Sandy PTSD. Share your thoughts and suggestions in the comments or email us at [email protected]