Feature Story Health

Calamities and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Image @ https://psychneuro.wordpress.com

MURRIETA, California – The last 100 days in my journey called life included preparations for a Category 4 Hurricane, failure to prepare for two Earthquakes and a hurried readiness for a wildfire, of which the last two events occurred within 48 hours of each other.


I watched in disbelief this week as firefighting planes fly over and fire engines sped toward the Liberty Fire in Murrieta. The people standing next to me, as I capture the footage of the wildfire with my camera, had no idea of the pain that I witnessed and experienced in Houston with Hurricane Harvey. Now, here I stood having left one landscape that looked like a war zone only to enter another.

(Read More: http://beyonddeadlines.com/2017/08/28/houston-texas-pummeled-by-hurricane-harvey/)

As I continue to snap pictures, I could not help looking back in my mind at the pictures of the debris piles from the homes of families I knew and met in Houston. It started me thinking, what if all the joking around about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that I heard after the hurricane is actually not a joke?

What does trauma or PTSD “look like”? What resources are available?”

Hurricane Harvey and the California fire storm

Hurricane Harvey was the fiercest hurricane to hit the United States in 13 years and the strongest on record to strike the southern state of Texas since 1961’s Hurricane Carla.

Yes, Harvey’s winds and torrential rains have long ended yet many people in Texas and Florida continue to feel the impact of the said hurricane in hidden and dramatic ways.

Similarly, Murrieta residents are feeling the impact of the wildfire in many ways. The images are all over the news and social media all day for everyone to see. The trauma of watching their homes and belongings burn can lead to PTSD, a debilitating psychological condition.

There are four types of PTSD – 1) intrusive memories, 2) avoidance, 3) adverse changes in mood and thought, and 4) emotional reactions and physical changes.

Extreme Weather

Extreme events like wildfires, earthquakes, and hurricanes have an incremental impact on human health. Trauma isn’t characterized by the event but by one’s reactions to it. Any overwhelming and distressing experience can cause trauma which could only be recognized through its symptoms.

Like many trauma causes, natural disasters can be sudden and overwhelming.

Additionally, trauma victims do not need to have experienced the disaster firsthand in order to be psychologically affected.

For example, someone living in California with relatives in Houston at the time of Hurricane Harvey could have been subjected to countless hours of television coverage about death and devastation and most likely their natural reaction would be anxiety and this type of response, if intense, could take an emotional impact on someone even from afar and lead to PTSD.

According to the American Psychological Association, “the following are common symptoms of trauma:

  • Feelings become intense and sometimes are unpredictable. Irritability, mood swings, anxiety, and depression are coming manifestations of this.

  • Flashbacks: repeated and vivid memories of the event that lead to physical reactions such as rapid heartbeat or sweating

  • Confusion or difficulty making decisions

  • Sleep or eating issues

  • Fear that the emotional event will be repeated

  • A change in interpersonal relationships skills, such as an increase in conflict or a more withdrawn and avoidant personality

  • Physical symptoms such as headaches, nausea, and chest pain”

Predicting PTSD

It’s hard to predict when PTSD will set in on a survivor of a traumatic event.

Psychological issues could arise following a traumatic event from “direct exposure,” to being in danger and seeing other people imperiled. Some victims at first seem perfectly, or even abnormally fine, only to be beset with symptoms later.

For example, reports from the Veterans Administration indicate that “the Southern California fires in the 2003 California Firestorm forced 100,000 people out of their homes. Data collected from survivors at nearby disaster relief facilities showed that over two-thirds had feared for their life or that of a loved one. When these survivors were screened three months later, one-third screened positive for depression and almost one-fourth screened positive for PTSD.”

Resources – Disaster Distress Helpline

If you experienced a traumatic event, there are resources available like the Disaster Distress Helpline which can be contacted at 800-985-5990. The helpline have crisis counselors that are manning the phone 24/7 throughout the year for those individuals who are experiencing stress, distress, emotional, anxiety and depression.

The helpline can respond in over 100 languages, anyone and everyone can call or text the disaster helpline. A waiting counselor will offer tips for managing your mental health symptoms and steer you to available community resources.

The Disaster Distress Helpline also has a text function. You can text TalkWithUs to 66746 to connect with a trained crisis counselor. The hot-line is also available on Twitter and via Mobile app.

Disaster Distress Helpline for Spanish Speakers

  • Call 1-800-985-5990 and press “2”

  • From the US., text Hablanos to 66746

  • From Puerto Rico or the US. Virgin Islands, text Hablanos to 1-212-461-4635

  • From American Samoa, Guam, Palau, Marshall Islands, Northern Mariana Islands, and the Federated States of Micronesia, text Hablanos to 1-206-430-1097

Daniella Flanagan
Dani, as Daniella is known among her friends, is an actress, production assistant, producer, set designer, casting director, host, and reporter. She is a huge fan of beignet, crawfish, catfish, palabok, pancit, and the great States of Texas and California. Her background is in International Business and TV/Film production.

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