Catastrophes Can Affect Mental Health

NAMI-MN offers resources for victims The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Minnesota was shocked by the collapse of […]

NAMI-MN offers resources for victims

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Minnesota was shocked by the collapse of the I-35W Bridge and the catastrophic flooding in southeast Minnesota. NAMI joins with people from around the state in sending thoughts and prayers to all who were affected.

NAMI wants to remind the public that everyone is impacted in some way by traumatic events such as these, and that each of us has different needs and ways of coping.

It is very normal to feel anxious and to feel sadness following such unusual and tragic events. To move forward, it is important to talk about our feelings, take care of ourselves (sleep, eating healthy, exercise) and manage our stress levels.

“Those who are at greatest risk for a poor outcome or psychiatric problems are those most closely involved and those with a prior psychiatric diagnosis,” said Anand Pandya, M.D., president of the NAMI Board of Directors and co-founder and president of Disaster Psychiatry Outreach, a charity that provides psychiatric care in the wake of disasters. “Too often those with existing psychiatric diagnoses are overlooked in these situations.”

It is important to note that these types of events can trigger depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. In people who already have these and other mental illnesses, this tragedy may also have an impact with an increase in symptoms. People may experience symptoms right away or in the weeks to come.

Dr. Pandya encourages everyone to be aware of their exposure to news coverage, as children and adults alike may be vulnerable to developing depression, PTSD, and other anxiety disorders.

Some of the symptoms of depression are:

• Changes in appetite with significant weight loss or weight gain not due to dieting

• Sleeping too much or too little; insomnia; middle of the night or early morning waking

• Loss of energy or increased fatigue; feeling tired despite lack of activity

• Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness or inappropriate guilt

• Difficulty thinking, concentrating, remembering or making decisions

• Thoughts of suicide or death or attempts at suicide

• Persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment—such as chronic pain or digestive disorder

Although the symptoms for individuals with PTSD can vary considerably, they generally fall into three categories:

• Re-experience: Individuals with PTSD often experience recurrent and intrusive recollections of and/or nightmares about the stressful event. Some may experience flashbacks, hallucinations, or other vivid feelings of the event happening again. Others experience great psychological or physiological distress when certain things (objects, situations, etc.) remind them of the event.

• Avoidance: Many with PTSD will persistently avoid things that remind them of the traumatic event. This can result in avoiding everything from thoughts, feelings, or conversations associated with the incident to activities, places, or people that cause them to recall the event. In others there may be a general lack of responsiveness signaled by an inability to recall aspects of the trauma, a decreased interest in formerly important activities, a feeling of detachment from others, a limited range of emotion, and/or feelings of hopelessness about the future.

• Increased arousal: Symptoms in this area may include difficulty falling or staying asleep, irritability or outbursts of anger, difficulty concentrating, becoming very alert or watchful, and/or jumpiness or being easily startled.

For those experiencing increased anxiety, NAMI Minnesota holds anxiety support groups. Times and locations are posted on our Web site, www.namimn.org.

Children can especially be affected, and may become fearful or experience anxiety. The federal government has helpful information available on their Web site that was produced for similar traumatic situations at http://mentalhealth.samhsa.gov/. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network Web site has information as well, including information specific to Minnesota at www.nctsn.org.

For more information about the impact of disasters and how to cope, go to http://mentalhealth.samhsa.gov/

Sue Abderholden is Executive Director of NAMI Minnesota. NAMI-MN’s mission is to champion justice, dignity, and respect for all Minnesotans affected by mental illness (brain disorders).