The Mental Health Effects of Hurricanes on Survivors

Hurricane Dorian left destruction in its wake when it passed through the Bahamas. While recovery efforts have started in combing through the physical wreckage, it’s worth noting that Dorian left behind less visible damage, too: the mental health effects that hurricanes have on their survivors. As one of the strongest Atlantic hurricanes in history, the terror of the storm lingers in the minds of many. 

According to the Associated Press, mental health counselors have been dispatched to the affected communities to help those traumatized by the storm. A local pastor Robert Lockhart in Grand Bahama encouraged his congregation at Calvary Temple to share their experiences. One community member, Carlos Evans, hoped that his story would bring encouragement to others. 

Dorian is not the first storm to highlight the mental health difficulties of survivors. Research has indicated that hurricanes and similar natural disasters can be detrimental to mental health. A recent study found that people living in England whose homes had been damaged by storms or floods had a 50% higher likelihood of poor mental health than those whose homes hadn’t been damaged. Studies on previous North American hurricanes showed results that were consistent with these findings. 

Of those affected by Hurricane Harvey, which struck Texas in August and September 2017, 48% of Harris County residents whose homes were severely damaged showed signs of serious psychological distress. Eoin Ryan, a mental health specialist, said that it will take weeks or even months to determine Dorian’s psychological toll. While many are still seeking resources like food, water, and shelter, the emotional impact may settle in once they are out of shock. 

The stress of coping after a natural disaster can be compounded, and current storms can trigger the emotional and physical sensations that people experienced when they survived previous hurricanes. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), common behaviors that exhibit around the time a hurricane strikes include persistent worry, anxiety, and sleep issues, as are intrusive memories, thoughts, and nightmares related to the storm. 

Department of Education Seeks to Improve Mental Health

The Department of Education of Louisiana publicized that the state was lucky to receive a $9 million grant that was set to be directed on improving and expanding mental health services primarily to students. This aid is aimed at supporting healthy development. The funding was also aimed at preventing violence that originates from the youths. The donation was given through the United States Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

 

Commenting on the Project Advancing Wellness and Resilience Education grant, the State Superintendent John White said that the education department is obliged to understand and meet the learning needs of every child to genuinely serve them all. Mr. John White also emphasized the understanding and improvement of the social and emotional needs of students. John White continued that Louisiana State has received an exciting opportunity to ensure that the learning, social, and emotional needs of all children across the State are taken care of, and the learning is propelled.

 

The Project AWARE looks forward to awarding Louisiana State with $1.8 million every year for the next five years. The Department of Education is set to partner with the Louisiana Department of Health with the aim of ensuring proper utilization of the funding in the bid to establish and equip a complete Louisiana School Mental Health Support Program. The programs will be targeting to increase awareness of mental health problems among the school-going children. The program also aims at offering customized training to equip school personnel on ways to detect and give an appropriate response to mental health challenges.

 

The aid come following a drastic increase in mental health problems among the school-aged youths that attend school from 6th to 12th grade across Louisiana. According to Dr. Janice Peterson, the mental health cases in 12th grade increased from 21.7% in the year 2014 to 24.7% in 2016.

 

The program is set to begin its services by prioritizing 34 most affected schools in Jefferson Parish, St. Bernard Parish, and the City of Monroe school systems. The listed schools were in the past identified by the state as struggling with the highest rates of out-of-school obedience. The same schools were asked to come up with plans on how they intend to improve every site and submit those plans during the 2018-19 school year.

 

The Current State of Mental Health Care on US College Campuses

Between 2009 and 2017, the number of college students needing mental health services increased by 30 percent while student enrollment increased by just 6 percent. This vast increase in the number of students needing mental health counseling has so overwhelmed university health services that students face long wait times just to talk to a therapist. Not surprisingly, many students drop out of universities because of mental health struggles.

 

Students clearly need help. The pressures of college life are harming their health. Bright students with great potential may feel they have no choice but to quit. No degree, job, or career path is worth going through stress and anxiety that causes students to become depressed, suffer crippling anxiety, and engage in harmful behaviors like self-harm. But students need degrees in order to pursue the opportunities that will lead to a fulfilling life later.

 

Stress-related illness underpins a large part of the problem. This can be seen from statistics that show student visits to mental health centers increases as the term goes on, often doubling a midterms approach, as shown in Time Magazine.

 

Many students find the challenges of university life are too much. Between heavy course loads, social and peer pressures, extracurricular activities, fear of disappointing parents, and financial struggles and student debt, college students carry a heavy burden of worry and sometimes difficult, if not impossible, expectations. These expectations may be self-imposed or external, but either way, they can lead to physical and mental breakdown when students run themselves ragged day in and day out to meet them. College, after all, is supposed to be a time of self-discovery. It’s supposed to be fun and provide students with new found freedom.

 

Anxiety and high expectations have always been part of the university world. The current epidemic of negative effects may stem from an increasingly competitive society and the expectations that every student needs a high degree that lands them a prestigious job. Pressure like that is tough for anyone to take. Throwing an 18-year-old into such an environment seems to ask for trouble.

 

Universities across the country are taking note. As noted in Time Magazine, institutions like the University of Pennsylvania are increasing funding for mental health services. Off-campus, private mental health providers are creating programs aimed at helping students cope with the pressures of college life.

 

The epidemic of stress-related anxiety and depression clearly indicates these measures are needed. Parents, too, should be aware of how stress and pressure are affecting their children. Having goals and ambitions is important but should never come at the expense of health.