Super Storm Sandy and PTSD
Natural disasters like Super Storm Sandy, the most devastating weather event since Katrina and one of the most destructive in our nation's history, can cause people to suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as surely as others develop it from combat experiences, a car accident or physical abuse. Given the millions of people on the East Coast affected by Super Storm Sandy, it stands to reason that in the coming months, tens or perhaps hundreds of thousands of people will suffer from PTSD due to this natural disaster. Super Storm Sandy has caused folks to undergo a tremendous life upheaval. Not only were their lives and property endangered, their livelihoods may also well be threatened. It is the rare survivor of the storm that comes through without some form of psychological trauma after such a devastating catastrophe.
How do you know if you have PTSD?
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association, after a traumatic event if you suffer from symptoms that include depression, anxiety, flashbacks, avoidance, isolation, difficulty falling and/or staying asleep, difficulty concentrating, irritability, an exaggerated startle response and hypervigilance, you may have Acute Stress Disorder (ASD). If these symptoms last longer than a month, then you may suffer from PTSD.
As mentioned in our previous column, PTSD is made up of three basic things: trauma, depression and anxiety. We encourage you to visit our last article The Rocky Road to PTSD for a detailed description of symptoms.
What can you do after Super Storm Sandy?
First and foremost, take care of your physical needs and those of your loved ones. Meeting the needs of your family is the most important thing you can do by making sure everyone is as safe as possible. Even if you or loved ones are displaying ASD or PTSD symptoms, you will probably be too busy to notice. Make time to be there for your family and friend in this time of need. And anyway, who wouldn’t be depressed and anxious or suffer from nightmares after your life has been turned upside down in every way possible? As you start to get your bearings and some semblance of routine returns, watch for symptoms – in yourself and those close to you. If you start noting symptoms (for instance recurring nightmares, fear of leaving home or going outside, frequently looking out the window, hiding) check the resources below for assistance.
What can you do if you are a First Responder or related to one?
Up and down the East Coast, the heroes who responded and continue to respond to Super Storm Sandy may have an especially difficult time. Their anxiety level exponentially increases having left their families – or worse – never having a chance to see them to say good bye – before putting their lives on the line for others. Many will not know how their loved ones fared for days. In the coming weeks, if you are a first responder, work hard to not feel guilty about leaving your family. They know that you have chosen your line of work and are proud of you and the people you have helped are grateful beyond words. Watch for signs of PTSD and if you notice them, check the resources below.
Heads up mental health professionals
You are incredibly important and will be more so in the coming weeks and months. Having dedicated your life to the mental well-being of others, you will want to help as soon as possible. But if you and your loved ones were affected by Super Storm Sandy, take the time to take care of yourself and those closest to you first. Many people will need you in the near future – stay healthy, strong and focused. Also be aware of your life – how much you can help, how long you can volunteer – within the context of your other professional obligations.
Super Storm Sandy has been devastating and her affects may be felt for years to come. But one day, this too shall pass. Life will get back to normal – maybe a new and different normal – but normalcy will surely return. And there will be a brighter tomorrow for each of us, helpers and those who are helped.
National Center for PTSD – www.va.gov
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) - http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-pts...
The Time Cure: Overcoming PTSD with the New Psychology of Time Perspective Therapy (Zimbardo, Sword & Sword, 2012, Wiley Publishing)
For more information on the effects of PTSD, see The Time Cure: Overcoming PTSD with the New Psychology of Time Perspective Therapy (Zimbardo, Sword & Sword, 2012, Wiley Publishing,) and for strategies to reduce stress and improve communication, visit www.timecure.com and www.lifehut.com.