Hurricane Ian‘s path of destruction goes transcends damages to homes, cars and buildings.
The catastrophic hurricane that pummeled Southwest Florida and traversed across the state toward Jacksonville, forced 16 hospitals to evacuate and left 2.7 million residents without power as of Thursday will also leave residents struggling with mental health issues.
Florida Behavioral Health Association President and CEO Melanie Brown-Woofter said four years after Hurricane Michael, a Category 5 hurricane, made landfall near Mexico Beach and ravaged much of the Florida Panhandle, community mental health providers continue to work with families and residents in the area who were impacted by the storm.
After Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, nearly half of the survivors suffered from some form of mental distress, according to a 2012 study in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. More recently, a 2020 University of Delaware study found that suicide rates increase during all types of disasters — including severe storms, floods, hurricanes and ice storms — with the largest overall increase occurring two years after a disaster. The analysis reviews the impact of 281 different types of natural disasters on suicided rates and found there was a 23% increase in suicide rates post-disasters.
To help avoid potential post-traumatic stress disorder or increased stress the American Psychological Association recommends that people should take a break from watching the news; find productive ways to help family, friends and neighbors; keep daily routines and acknowledge their feelings and if necessary seek professional help.
Brown-Woofter also recommended that residents seek out resources and helplines the FBHA makes available to help people recover from trauma. The association represents more than 70 community mental health and substance use treatment providers in the state.
“It may take weeks, months or even years to grasp the severity of what has happened,” Brown-Woofter said. “Now is the time to seek help.”
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s disaster distress helpline is 1-800-985-5990.