Natural and man made disasters

In addition to natural disasters, communities must now prepare for the possibility of man-made disasters, such as workplace or school violence, terrorism, and even bioterrorism. Following the events of September 11th it became apparent that mental health response plans are a crucial element in preparing for terrorist and bioterrorist attacks. Although many state and local governments have developed preparedness plans for future attacks, many of these plans place more emphasis on medical aspects of a terrorist or bioterrorist attack. According to mental health experts, "The nation has done too little to prepare for the terror in terrorism - the fear, panic, and misinformation that could spread after a biological attack …" (Associated Press, November 20, 2002).

Since the mid-1990s, faculty in the National Rural Behavioral Health Center have been invited to assist communities responding to the mental health effects of natural and man-made disasters including Hurricane Andrew in Florida, the Red River floods in the Midwest, drought and wildfires in the southeast and far west, and most recently the September 11th terrorist attacks. As a result of experiences with Hurricane Andrew and the Red River floods, Drs. Garret Evans and Sam Sears, Departments of Clinical and Health Psychology and Family, Youth, and Community Sciences, developed the curriculum Triumph Over Tragedy: A Community Response to Managing Post-Disaster Stress. This curriculum was originally designed for Extension professionals, healthcare professionals, and other disaster response workers who play an integral role in helping a community prepare for, respond to, and recover following a disaster. NRBHC faculty have traveled to various states training health providers, mental health specialists, EMS personnel, policy makers, and teachers regarding the mental health effects of disasters, school violence, and other critical events.

The NRBHC's faculty and staff are currently expanding the original Triumph Over Tragedy curriculum to include community-wide mental health approaches to terrorism and bioterrorism, with a special focus on the needs of rural communities. Our goal is to develop materials to train key community leaders, first responders, and mental health professionals regarding the mental health aspects of disasters and terrorism. But firstly, we must all be aware that it starts from the home. It is a known fact that people who participate in terrorism condone domestic violence. The expanded curriculum will contain information on individual and community psychological reactions following a disaster or terrorism event, strategies for helping communities prepare for and respond to critical events, strategies for supporting individual community members in the wake of a disaster, and the long-term recovery process for individuals and communities.

Coping With Disaster

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Disasters affect people in many ways. The physical effects – loss of loved ones, pain or physical disability, damage to or destruction of homes and property and cherished belongings – are usually obvious. Short-term emotional effects, such as fear, acute anxiety, feelings of emotional numbness, or grief, are very common.This leads to responses such as insomnia, loss of memory, scattered thinking, inability to concentrate and focus, irritability, etc. This leads to doctors prescribing medications such as xanax, valium and ambien that will help with dealing with the effects of the responses but not addressing the source of the response.So before you start to buy ambien and other medications,look at our suggestions on alternative coping mechanisms


Some Initial Responses to Disaster

·   Fear                                                           
Difficulty relaxing                         
Difficulty making decisions                           
·   Irritability; being startled  easily               
Guilty feelings                                            
Feeling that "no one can understand what I’ve been through"                             
·   Need to cling to others                                
·   Confusion
·   Difficulty believing what  has happened
·   Seeking information  
Seeking help for yourself  and your family
·   Helpfulness to other  disaster victims 
·   Sudden anger             

For most victims of disasters, these responses fade with time, but there may be longer-term emotional effects that do not fade. The emotional effects of a disaster may show up immediately or may appear months later. They may be obviously related to the disaster or their origin may go unrecognized.

Later Responses to Disaster

·   Grief, depression, despair, hopelessness; crying for "no apparent reason"
·   Anxiety, nervousness, being frightened easily, worrying
·   Feeling disoriented or confused
·   Feeling helpless and vulnerable
·   Suspiciousness, constant fear of harm
·   Sleep disturbances: insomnia, bad dreams, nightmares
·   Irritability, moodiness, anger
·   Headaches, digestive problems, diffuse muscular pains, sweats and chills, tremors, loss of sexual
·   Flashbacks: feelings of "re-living" the experience, often accompanied by  anxiety
·   Avoidance of thoughts about the disaster; avoidance of places, pictures sounds reminding the
         victim  of the disaster; avoidance of discussion about it
·   Increased marital conflict or other interpersonal conflict
·   Excessive alcohol or drug use
·   Difficulty concentrating, remembering; slow thinking
·   Difficulty making decisions and planning
·   Feelings of being detached from your body or from your experiences, as if  they are not happening
         to you
·   Feelings of ineffectiveness, shame, despair, guilt
·   Self-destructive and impulsive behavior
·   Suicidal ideation or attempts

                                      What You Can Do

Recognize your own feelings. Strong feelings after a disaster are almost universal. It is not "abnormal" or "crazy" to have strong feelings and unanticipated reactions.

Be tolerant of other people’s reactions – their irritability and short tempers. Disasters are a time of stress for everyone.

Talk to others about your feelings. Talking helps relieve stress and helps you realize that your feelings are shared by other victims. You are not alone.

Take care of yourself: Get enough rest. Eat properly. Take time off to do something you enjoy. Get as much physical activity as possible, such as running or walking.

Learn relaxation exercises and use them regularly.

Seek out and share accurate information about assistance being offered and possible resources, but do not spread rumors: Check out information about which you have doubts.

Do not allow yourself to become inactive or completely dependent on others. Get involved in making decisions that affect you. Try to solve your own problems.

Get back to work and resume your normal family role and functions as soon as possible.

Do not allow yourself to become isolated from others. Participate in community responses to the disaster. Accept help from others, and offer help to others.