mental health and natural disasters

Dayton tornado damage
from Wochit News

When tornadoes struck the Dayton region over Memorial Day weekend, the lives and livelihoods of thousands of people were at the very least upended, if not destroyed. Days later, people are still trying to find basics - things like water, shelter, food, and clothing - to help them move from day to day as they start to piece things back together.


But there is also something more to consider. The mental health effects of a natural disaster like this can - and do - linger. They may not be as obvious at first, but they can creep into everyday life, and they can lead to other issues if left unaddressed.


We're all affected when we hear the news about natural disasters. We worry about the safety of those affected. We look for ways to help, perhaps through donations of money or goods or clothing. We may even go to help if we live close.


And knowing someone who has lost their home or job because of the devastation adds more to our concern and worry. It sometimes motivates us to do more to help, offering shelter, food, a bed, and whatever else we can. Our concern deepens.


And that brings us to the mental health effects of this event. In the short term, crisis counseling helps to assess what's happened, educate on places of help, and inform people about meeting basic needs.


In the short term, survivors are at risk for things like depression, confusion, anxiety, and extreme stress disorders, according to Underlying conditions can also be brought to the forefront.


But going forward, things like post-traumatic stress disorder, panic attacks, depression, and other mood disorders are possible long term issues. Most of these don't last more than a few months after the disaster, but treatment is key. Without it, professionals say things could develop into deeper mental health issues.


Bottom line: reach out to people you know who may have been affected by the recent tornadoes. Help a church or community group gather and deliver supplies that are needed. Offer arms of comfort, too - you don't need a therapist's license to give a hug or a listening ear.


If you are looking for ways to help, visit for places to donate money or food.