Know about the link between natural disasters and mental health?
‘Disasters and their consequences for public health, a review published in 2011 by National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) mentioned the diverse effects of natural disasters such as incidence of acute diseases, and physical and emotional trauma. The health care system adjoining the disasters isn’t effective enough to tackle the increased morbidity and mortality rates. National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) seconded the opinion explaining the uncertainty and non-uniformity of the disasters. It also affects every place and person differently. Even resilient people will eventually lose hope and possess the risk of physical and psychological difficulties when they are not provided with resources to tackle the damages caused and to survive with physical, emotional, and social limitations.
Natural disasters affect the individuals psychologically when they are exposed to them directly or indirectly
In a research published by the University of California, Irvine, researchers examined the Irma and Michael hurricanes respectively hit the US in 2017 and 2018, and their exposures in June 2022. Similar to the effect of climate changes on mental health, natural disasters affect individuals psychologically when they are exposed to them directly or indirectly. Even news consumption and media regarding the events adversely affect the public. Dana Rose Garfin, author, of the University of California, Irvine, explained that some survivors suffering from the aftermath of the disasters tend to become resilient as time passes. But some events tend to repeat themselves or the threat continues to exist, for example, hurricanes, which are caused by climate changes, wildfires giving rise to heat waves are some catastrophic events where people take a longer time to heal naturally. The impact of the direct exposure includes the incidence of constant worrying, fear, panic, anxiety, depression, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Tanushri Baikar Talekar working as the clinical psychologist in Masina Hospital described natural disasters as overwhelming events that cause trauma, adding to the external assistance required by those who suffered from them in light of the sudden ecological phenomenon of a considerably large magnitude. According to a review by NCBI in 2017, the reasons why acute psychological stress is increased during and after natural disasters are significant loss of resources, change in habitual routines, uncertainty caused about owning assets or possessions, and lack of social support. In India, some of the recent events such as floods in Assam where close to 45 lakhs residents were affected. In Afghanistan, earthquakes killed about 1000 people. The surrounding areas of Sunderbans were deeply damaged by cyclones. Iran, Spain, and some parts of the US were time and again impact by the heat waves. If examined closely, the individuals affected by these natural calamities are extensively worried, anxious, and depressed and live with one or the other psychological issues.
The state of mental health concerning natural disasters in India
In India, there are decades of the stigma associated with mental health, and the sufferers of natural disasters are not going to be treated any differently. The physical injuries and the number of resources lost in the catastrophe take the most priority when providing care and attention to the ones suffered due to natural disasters. Even the sufferers fail to acknowledge the psychological distress they undergo and decide to suppress their emotions compared to the loss they encountered. When it came to research studying the psychological problems caused by natural calamities, the due credit goes to researchers examining the issues faced by the public during the super cyclone in Odisha in 1999 affecting up to 10,000 individuals, and the Tsunami that occurred in the Indian Ocean in 2004 that impacted the lives of more than 10,000 people. Public Health and Disasters: Health Emergency and Disaster Risk Management in Asia, a book published in 2020 touched upon how these natural calamities left people homeless, and vulnerable and caused PTSD among other serious losses. The impact it leaves depends on the intensity of the disaster itself. The duration of the damage it causes can be short or long because natural disasters are shocking, painful, chaotic, unexpected, and unimaginable. It not only affects the individual, but it also affects the family and the individual’s role in the community at large.
How to tackle the mental health issues caused by natural disasters?
Step 1: Crisis interventions
Focus on the injuries and get them treated as soon as possible. See that the basic necessities such as food, a roof to reside, and medical services are taken care of. Use crisis intervention techniques to calm the affected because they tend to panic thinking about their safety and security.
Step 2: Coping strategies
Identify the individual psychiatric cases and treat them accordingly. The survivors need individualized strategies to cope with the damage and the stress the event has caused. They also require psychosocial care and mental health services.
Step 3: Build a realistic support system
The damage can be lasting and it takes the natural course for an individual to heal from the damage incurred, and they wouldn’t be able to do it alone, they would need a real support system that doesn’t just give them false promises, instead educate them of the prevailing condition, the time it would take for the authorities to send the help they are expecting and the associated limitations. The support system should also prioritize providing them with the first line of care such as healthcare facilities for medical care, educational institutions for children’s continuing education, clinical psychologists for psychological care, social workers and NGOs for social care, paramedical professionals to assist, community-level workers to help them rebuild their lives, and volunteers to tend to their difficulties.
Step 4: Motivation and Resilience
It is also essential to keep one and others motivated given the unfortunate circumstances. Real-time solutions can open their eyes, and make them see there’s more to life than where these disasters left them. This helps them build resilience to cope with the difficulties faced. Encourage them to open up about their troubles, share their experiences, express their emotions and gain others’ perspectives. Reassure them that they are not alone. Educate them of the mental health services such as individual or group psychotherapy, counseling sessions, pharmacological interventions, and social interactions to help them tackle the psychological distress caused by natural disasters.