As North Carolina grapples to recover from Hurricane Florence, on the heels of yet another wildfire outbreak in California, our national and global communities are realizing that natural disasters may very well be the new normal. Avery Philips joins Betty’s Battleground again to discuss the mental health impact on survivors of these types of traumas.
Avery T. Phillips is a freelance human being with too much to say. She loves nature and examining human interactions with the world. Comment or tweet her @a_taylorian with any questions or suggestions.
PTSD and Natural Disasters: The New Normal?
Natural disasters are an unavoidable part of life. While meteorologists and scientists have processes in place to predict and track irregular weather patterns with as much warning as possible, it’s impossible to avoid the damage that ensues. Certain areas are more prone to natural disasters than others, however, the frequency of natural disasters is a growing concern among government and disaster aid organizations that are noticing an increase in disasters. For communities that are struck by these disasters, the impact on their homes, neighborhoods and mental health can be difficult to recover from, with large numbers showing symptoms of PTSD.
Natural Disaster Impact
The number of hydro-meteorological disasters, such as droughts, tsunamis, typhoons, hurricanes and floods, has increased in the last 25 years. This increase is believed to be the result of man-made and natural factors. While the Earth’s weather patterns have been known to fluctuate as a natural process, the increased temperatures of the Earth’s oceans caused by global warming is leading to more catastrophic storms.
As the human population increases, so does our environmental impact. According to a study by the Federal Highway Administration, the use of gas and diesel by heavy-duty trucks has increased by several millions of gallons each year. Speculation about the environmental impact of fossil fuels has led companies to look for more sustainable energy alternatives, such as Amazon’s prospective use of drones to deliver products efficiently without increasing the number of trucks on the road.
Even as we work to decrease our environmental footprint, it will be a long time before we reverse the effects we’ve had on our climate. Natural disasters remain prevalent, and their effects on impacted communities are long lasting. The 2005 category 5 Hurricane Katrina that hit the southern U.S. from Florida to Texas caused widespread damage, resulting in over 1,000 lives lost and over 1 million displaced residents. According to Rutgers University, in a survey of impacted individuals, over 50 percent suffered from PTSD.
Living With PTSD
Years after Hurricane Katrina, the physical and emotional ramifications of the natural disaster could be seen everywhere. Most of the people who were displaced during the hurricane and suffered PTSD did not receive treatment or social services to address their symptoms in the aftermath of Katrina, which elongated the healing process. PTSD is not something that usually resolves itself, and research suggests that treatment and a strong support group directly after trauma can help treat the effects of PTSD and accelerate the recovery process. Many victims of the hurricane did not have the luxury of treatment.
There is a large range of individuals who experience PTSD, including those who have experienced trauma, a near-death event or extreme grief. Populations who have suffered the impact of a natural disaster are often more likely to have longer lasting consequences from this trauma. Natural disasters have a larger impact on vulnerable communities than on any other segment of the population, as at-risk populations have less access to treatment and will have a harder time getting back on their feet when their homes and valuables are destroyed.
Natural disasters have far-reaching impact, and the PTSD experienced by entire communities makes these catastrophes extremely difficult to recover from. At-risk populations especially live in fear of the next disaster that will be out of their control. As a result, environmental consciousness is rising as people look for ways to decrease their ecological footprint and reverse the effects of global warming.
Government and aid organizations can only prepare for these disasters to lower the impact they will inevitably have. Addressing the impact these disasters have on mental health can help communities make fuller recoveries after being displaced and losing their sense of stability. Although the rates of PTSD are increasing with the increase of natural disasters, this should not be the new normal. No matter how common natural disaster are, communities must be given the resources to recover from large-scale trauma.