Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Disaster Stress

My thirty-something sister lives in Naples, Florida, approximately two blocks from Naples Bay and eight blocks from the Gulf of Mexico. Needless to say, the last few days have been stressful for her. Unsurprisingly, my parents and I have also been stressed, mostly because we could not do anything to help her and felt utterly useless. For me, this weekend’s stress felt different than the garden variety work-stress to which I have grown accustomed. So, I decided to dig a little deeper and learned that a hurricane or other natural disaster presents a unique type of stress known as “disaster stress” or “trauma stress.”

Disaster stress differs from acute stress (e.g. car accident or roller coaster) and chronic stress (e.g. hassles of daily life) because disaster stress tends to impact a large number of people simultaneously. In fact, “[m]ild to moderate stress reactions in the emergency and early post-impact phases of disaster are highly prevalent because survivors (and their families, community members and rescue workers) accurately recognize the grave danger in disaster.” Moreover, as Dr. Susanne Babbel explains, disaster stress “victims do not need to have experienced the disaster firsthand in order to be psychologically affected. For example, someone living in [Morgantown] with relatives in [Naples] at the time of the [hurricane] could have been subjected to countless hours of television coverage, coupled with an inability to get information about their own family. This type of situation can take an emotional impact on someone even from afar.”

Truthfully, as I write this post, I’m watching news channels alternate between footage of the September 11 memorial, Harvey recovery efforts, the Mexico earthquake, and Hurricane Irma. It has been a rough week for a lot of the country. The good news is that many governmental agencies and professional mental health organizations offer free resources for those who might be experiencing disaster stress.

The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs’ National Center for PTSD maintains a comprehensive webpage on disaster stress and publishes fact sheets to help both sufferers and medical providers identify and treat disaster-related stress. (As I am sure you can imagine, military personnel are exposed to natural disaster situations more frequently than the regular population.) The Center suggests that all individuals should try to avoid extensive media coverage, but acknowledges that certain people are at a higher risk of experiencing disaster stress dependent upon the person's severity of exposure, gender, age, social support, and resilience. 

Similarly, the American Psychological Association offers online suggestions to help people "cope effectively with [their] feelings, thoughts and behaviors” following a natural disaster. The APA explains that "most people are resilient and over time are able to bounce back from tragedy. It is common for people to experience stress in the immediate aftermath, but within a few months most people are able to resume functioning as they did prior to the disaster. It is important to remember that resilience and recovery are the norm, not prolonged distress."  

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encourages individuals in distress to contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) disaster distress hotline by calling 1-800-985-5990 or by texting TalkWithUs to 66746.

I wish everyone a safe and speedy recovery and encourage you to share these resource links with anyone who might be experiencing disaster stress. (Kirsha Trychta)

Naples Canal is Dry

(Photo courtesy of one of my sister's friends. You can see how Hurricane Irma sucked the Naples canal water out toward the Gulf during the storm. The water has since returned.)

Tiki bar

(Photo courtesy of another friend's Facebook page.  This used to be a popular open-air Tiki restaurant.)

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