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How natural disasters affect people's mental health and what you can do to help


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Imagine losing everything. Your house, perhaps your family members or pets, and the city or town you live in. You probably can't, the very idea is likely too horrible to entertain. Yet for some this is the new reality with which they must live.

When you lose things that are a major part of your life there can be ramifications upon your own health. With Hurricane Harvey leaving Texas destroyed and Hurricane Irma already wreaking havoc in the Caribbean, it seems appropriate to warn people about the dangers of natural disasters, and inform you about how you can help.

It is also worth noting that while those in the UK are lucky enough to be relatively safe from such disasters, severe storms and flooding can still cause suffering and loss. As such people should always be vigilant and recognise in what ways they are vulnerable.

Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), is one of the more common psychological effects that occur after natural disasters, with a great deal of people suffering from it at the same time. According to the National Center for PTSD, there are many factors that come into play when determining the risk of suffering from PTSD after a natural disaster. Some of those factors include severity of exposure, age, whether you have good or poor social support, coping mechanisms, resilience, and whether or not you live in a developing country.

The Mayo Clinic says that some of the effects of PTSD may appear as intrusive memories, avoidance or negative changes in thinking or mood. They might also appear as changes in physical and emotional reactions, such as trouble thinking and concentrating, being easily frightened and always being on edge. 

Another mental health concern for people that have gone through a type of natural disaster is depression. Depression is the second most problematic issue people face (after anxiety) in regards to their mental health, according to the Australian Psychological Society. A study done by researchers from Sichuan University surveyed 435 children and adults who survived two major earthquakes. After 12 months, 43.9% of those people suffered from PTSD, 20.9% from depression, and 18.9% suffered from both PTSD and depression. After 30 months, 15.7% still suffered from PTSD and 21.9% from depression. This is one of many examples showing how natural disasters can have a significant effect on people's lives long after the tragedy has occurred.

If you ever find yourself a victim of a natural disaster do not despair, as there are many ways to cope. These include:

-Spending time with family

-Limiting your exposure to the disaster

-Talking about it (either with friends or with a professional)

-Asking for help

For more on coping after natural disasters you can visit Mental Health America.

If you know someone that has survived a natural disaster and want to help, you can do so by showing as much support as possible and watching out for the symptoms of PTSD, depression and other mental health concerns.

If you are a bystander of a natural disaster there are many ways that you can help as well, including: 

-Research which charities and organisations are helping those affected. Either donate money to them or see if they are looking for volunteers to go and help in person. Examples for Texas include the Red Cross and the Salvation Army

-Donate money on JustGiving and other fundraising sites 

- Donate blood

- Show support (either in person to those you know who are affected or via social media)

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