Natural Disasters And Mental Health
What is the first thing that we think about when we hear “natural disasters”? For some of you, it may be family, your safety, losing your house or your car, your children and pets, but where does our mental health fit in all of this?
You see, natural disasters and mental health go hand in hand for a lot of reasons. I will be walking you through how does it feel like to be in such a dangerous situation and how does that affect your mental health.
I live in Puerto Rico, many of you will know where it is located and others may not. Puerto Rico is a small island located between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean. And for those of you who don’t know, yes we’re part of the United States.
What does that mean?
It means that we’re placed in a location where we’re in danger every single day. Whether it’s hurricane season, or whatever day it can be, we’re right in the middle of two of the most seismic tectonic zones. Squeezed between the border of the North American and Caribbean tectonic plates, Puerto Rico is an undersea fault target.
Back in September 2017, we were hit with a category 5 hurricane that left the whole island without electricity, communication and water for months. Not to mention the number of people who died, during and after the hurricane. The government tried shoving that topic off by saying that about only 19 people died when in reality, over 4,500 Americans lost their lives. We’ve had hurricanes in the past, but nothing compared to hurricane Maria.
What Happened Next?
Here is where the natural disasters and mental health aftermaths jump in. Hundreds of people lost their home, others died due to the lack of care, medication, etc. Others were so traumatized that they ended up taking their own lives. I remember when that hurricane struck us, there was this news report about a man that had such a severe panic attack that he ended up seizing and died afterwards. A lot of people don’t comprehend the amount of pain and trauma something like this may inflict on someone’s life.
Some other people had to get emergency physiological help due to the amount of stress and anxiety the whole situation was causing them. Can you imagine, having a two-year-old daughter and not having food for her, or not having water nor medicines for your eighty-year-old mother who struggles with diabetes? That would leave anyone in a desperate need of help, to which they never got.
It is not scientifically proven, it’s just my opinion, but I’m almost sure that more than half of the mental illnesses people suffer from, have been due to the lack of information, lack of help, support and last but not least, the government and their capitalist system.
The government is never prepared for natural disasters, much less having to deal with individuals who are mentally ill.
For as long as I can remember, if maybe not ever, capitalism has always been the one that controls what happens around us. Do we need food and water? We have to pay for it. Do we want to own a house? We have to pay for it. You’re currently dealing with an illness, that you in no way asked for? Great, now you’ll have to spend hundreds of dollars on something just to keep you alive. Most of those things go against what human rights are supposed to be, but again, the government doesn’t care.
So, what makes me think that the people that are supposed to be in control of our country, the people who have power over the nations security and laws, are going to care about natural disasters and mental health? They probably don’t. We have to carry the burden and the trauma all by ourselves.
How To Cope
There is really no good answer to this. We all deal with trauma in different ways. Some of us have good coping mechanisms, others…we’re still working on that.
Natural disasters can’t be prevented. We can take precautions and we can prepare ourselves, but we can’t avoid what Mother Nature is trying to tell us. Hurricanes are predictable, you can know and see the trajectory from where they are, to how hard the damage is going to be, but with earthquakes, there’s no way of knowing when another one will happen. We’re just left there wondering and overthinking of all the possible scenarios of the actions that you may need to take. But again, earthquakes only last a few seconds, the stronger ones a few minutes, but that’s it. What could you possibly do in a couple of seconds after feeling the first shake and being so in shock that you don’t know whether to stay where you are, or leave the place. Anxiety starts kicking in again…and again…and again. It’s a non-stop cycle.
We worry about what we may need in an emergency, about how to help our loved ones, our elderly people, children, our pets, our belongings, our lives…every situation is different. For you, you may live alone so you’re ready to go with just an emergency bag, or maybe some of you have children – to whom you will have to explain what’s happening and all of the precautions you will have to take. For me, I have my family with me, my depression and anxiety medication, food, insulin, a place to keep my insulin cold…it’s a lot to stress about and the fact that this can happen at any given moment is one of the scariest things to experience.
What To Do
As I said before, there’s not really anything you can do to prevent a natural disaster from happening. The only thing we can do is fill our minds with the necessary knowledge and prepare ourselves.
When it comes to hurricanes I think it’s easier to prepare and make a good emergency bag, but when we’re talking about earthquakes…we never know when they’re coming until they hit us, so the best thing to do is to start preparing as soon as possible.
Here are some of the things I have in my emergency bag:
- Food (it has been said that it’s better to have food that doesn’t expire, but for now I do what I can and so should you)
- Flashlights (try to find both battery and solar ones)
- Important documents (birth certificate, social security number, medical proof of your conditions if you have any, property files, etc)
- Cash (not credit cards! remember that you may not have an accessible bank nor an ATH machine)
- Personal hygiene products (travel size can be great)
- Extra clothes
- Emergency phone numbers
- Powerbank (that way you can charge your phone or any other device that has a USB port. I recommend you finding a solar one)
- First aid kit
- Plastic bags
- Wipes etc
Those are some of the things I have in my emergency bag. Do keep in mind that if you live with more people you will have to each one prepare their things. Don’t forget about the elderly, nor your pets.
Those are just some of the basics, but please don’t limit yourself to only those things. If you have any medical condition, please make sure to have an emergency alternative for your medical supplies and medicines as well.
I know that having to deal with natural disasters and mental health all at once is not an easy thing, but taking precautions can really save lives.