Psychological Impact of a Natural Disaster


Natural Disasters - The Psychological Impact

There can be no more helpless a feeling than being in the middle of a natural disaster as it is happening, and experiencing first-hand the raw power of nature. For those of us whose only brush with a natural disaster is to be caught in a severe thunder or hail storm with some moderate damage to our homes, gardens and in the case of hail, our cars, we can only imagine the terror and uncertainty people must feel while the event is happening. To emerge at the other end as a survivor, then brings a different set of challenges as damage to property is assessed, temporary shelter found and a myriad of other issues confronted.

We have come a long way in our ability to physically prepare for a natural disaster that gives warnings prior to its arrival, and now consideration needs to be given to the mental and psychological effects which often don’t become evident until much later. By going to counselling sessions in Brisbane flood victims, for example, will be able to process their feeling and emotions, rather than ignore them.

In an disaster situation, people experience shock and feelings of terror and helplessness, followed by elation that they have survived. The first response is always one of rescue and physical safety followed by the cleaning up, rebuilding and getting back to normal. This takes months, and people are physically busy, with all their energies directed into the rebuilding. Some emotion may spill out, but mostly people try to “get on with it.”

Usually the first signs of psychological distress appear after this initial burst of physical activity, often months later. Symptoms can present as being unusually depressed, feeling guilty for surviving, particularly if others in the same situation didn’t, insomnia, anger, and withdrawing from family and friends.

These symptoms should be taken seriously. People outside the situation must understand that the loss of home and possessions, while just material things, have a profound effect, especially the things associated with happy memories such as photographs and mementos. A person’s home gives security and privacy, and in a total loss situation, that security and privacy has been unexpectedly and savagely removed.

Emotional trauma such as this is not something that people can just “get over.” In the more extreme cases, post traumatic stress disorder can result which needs professional intervention. Through consulting a psychologist in Brisbane disaster victims, for example, will get assistance to work through their emotional issues to a quicker recovery in their general health.

The effect of natural disasters on the mental health of victims is now understood to be just as important as the physical rebuilding. People with strong family and community ties cope much better than people on their own, and disaster organisations are now planning around this knowledge.