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.