WITH DISASTER AND TRAUMA
See MHANYS Fact
Children Cope With Disaster and Trauma"
for children and adolescents
yourself cope with trauma
Following a traumatic event, whether it be a natural disaster
or of human design, feelings of loss, grief, fear, anger, frustration,
anxiety, uncertainty, and helplessness are common reactions. It
is important to accept these feelings as a natural response to
a traumatic event, but it is also important work through these
negative emotions rather than dwelling on them. Follow a comfortable
daily routine as much as you are able. Taking such simple steps
as getting enough sleep, eating healthful foods, practicing relaxation
techniques, and just giving yourself time to readjust can boost
your ability to deal with increased anxiety and stress. Reaching
out to friends and family, and reconnecting with loved ones to
offer and receive support and reassurance are other positive ways
to counter negative emotions.
impact of trauma on mental health
Individuals process traumatic events differently. In the immediate
aftermath people may experience shock and denial. Shock refers
to the feeling of being in a daze, or too stunned to comprehend
fully what has just occurred. Denial is a refusal to acknowledge
the extent of the impact a traumatic event has had on oneself,
or even to deny it has happened. Shock and denial are common responses,
and a normal piece of one's "mental health self-defense"
mechanism that protect one from having to confront the enormity
of a traumatic experience as it is happening.
the hours or days following a traumatic event people cope with
the situation in different ways. Several factors can affect the
degree of the impact of a traumatic event. People who have had
a traumatic experience earlier in their lives may find that a
new event can trigger a recurrence of negative reactions. People
with major life stresses, such as loss of employment, recent death
of a loved one, or conflict in the family, occurring shortly before
or after the traumatic event may also be at greater risk for negative
aftereffects. The duration of the traumatic event, a person's
proximity to the event (i.e. did it happen to them, did they witness
the event, was a loved one affected by an event that they themselves
were not involved in), and the type of trauma can all influence
an individual's responses. Studies suggest that human-caused traumatic
events take a greater emotional toll. Some people may experience
very high levels of anxiety even after the immediate danger has
passed. They may become susceptible to panic attacks, or develop
phobias that relate to the traumatic event.
of acute anxiety in adults may include:
Feeling numb, detached, or emotionally unresponsive
A continuing state of being in shock or in a daze
detached from oneself or from one's surroundings
like one is "in a dream", or that events and one's
environment is "unreal"
out" memories of the event, or an inability to recall aspects
of the event
disturbing thoughts or dreams about the event
or having the sense of reliving the event
emotional distress when encountering a reminder of the event
reminders or recollections of the event
manifests itself in physical symptoms as well. People in the midst
of a panic attack can suffer from shortness of breath or feelings
of choking, dizziness, trembling, nausea, or they may feel as
though they are having a heart attack. When symptoms of acute
anxiety persist for longer than several weeks, and anxiety continues
to impair one's ability to function in any aspect of day-to-day
life, it is important to seek professional evaluation for post-traumatic
stress disorder (PTSD). In some cases PTSD may emerge months after
may enter a depressed state following a tragedy, even if they
initially reacted to the traumatic event energetically.
of depression in adults may include:
sad or empty most of the day, nearly every day
interest, or lack of interest, in activities, including those
in appetite, either an increase or decrease
in sleep patterns, either insomnia or sleeping most of the time
or lack of energy
or crying for seemingly no apparent reason
or an inability to concentrate
or worthlessness or guilt
thoughts of death or suicidal feelings
emotional and behavioral changes are not necessarily permanent
responses to trauma. If you find that symptoms of anxiety
and/or depression continue to interfere with your ability to function
in life as you did before a traumatic event, consult a mental
health professional for an evaluation. Even short-term counseling
following a traumatic event can have a beneficial impact. Therapy
with a mental health professional and/or participating in support
groups can be very effective in helping to deal with emotionally
painful and negative aftereffects of tragedy.
it may be unrealistic to expect that one's life will ever "be
the same" again, it is entirely possible to regain a normal
life and greatly improve one's ability to deal with stress and
someone who has experienced trauma
Accept that a person who has experienced a traumatic event needs
to process the experience on his/her own terms at his/her own
pace. However tempting it may be to try to "fix things"
or to tell someone to "get over it," that only adds
unhelpful pressure, and may make the person reluctant to express
distressing emotions. Sometimes the best thing one can do to help
is to follow the piece of advice that goes, "Don't just do
something, stand there!" Be patient; allow them the time
they need to deal with their feelings. Be supportive. Be a non-judgmental
listener and allow them to discuss their experiences and feelings
without interrupting or telling them what you think they should
do to get better. It is all right, however, to discourage someone
from engaging in harmful behavior, such as trying to numb pain
through consumption of alcohol or drug use, and to encourage them
to seek counseling when appropriate.
a traumatic experience involves the death of a loved one, the
survivor will usually go through stages of bereavement and mourning.
Sometimes the nature of the tragedy, such as with the September
11th attacks, involves the death of people whom the survivor may
not have known or been close to. They may still be touched, perhaps
quite intensely, by a sense of loss. They may feel guilty for
having survived when others did not, or may feel guilt over things
one had to do in order to survive. Allow the survivor time to
mourn. It takes time to work through grief and all the other emotions,
such as sadness, anger, betrayal, that accompany a major loss.
A survivor of a traumatic event may feel loss for intangible things;
the loss of security, the loss of peace of mind, loss of potential
opportunities. Even though loss of life may not be the case in
these situations, it is important to recognize and respect that
coming to terms with any significant loss requires time to mourn
and grieve. Patience, understanding, and compassion are the best
things you can provide for someone going through the healing process
after a loss.
When disaster strikes, agencies such as your local Red Cross and
Salvation Army can provide or direct people to services including
mental health counseling.
trauma or disaster your local Mental Health Association, county
mental health agency, or mental health helplines can refer you
to mental health resources in your area. Look in the yellow pages
of the phone book under 'Mental Health Services'. Victims of crime,
rape, or domestic violence should contact their local crime victims
group, rape crisis center, or domestic violence organization for
assistance in locating counseling.
A directory of New York State
county mental health agencies is available on the Internet at
A directory of MHA affiliates in New York State is available at
on the Mental Health Association in New York State, Inc.'s website.
American Psychological Association operates a referral line at
1-800-964-2000 which connects callers with the state psychological
association referral network in their area. In New York State
the number is (518) 437-1050.
information on anxiety and stress disorders are available through
a number of organizations, including:
Mental Health Association - http://www.nmha.org,
National Alliance for the Mentally Ill - http://www.nami.org,
Anxiety Disorders Association of America, Inc. - http://www.adaa.org,
following online resources were consulted in putting together
"Managing Traumatic Stress:
Tips for Recovering From Disasters and Other Traumatic Events"
- American Psychological Association
"When Disaster Strikes..."
- American Psychiatric Association
Traumatic Stress Disorder" http://www.nami.org/helpline/ptsd.html
- National Alliance for the Mentally Ill
"Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder"
- National Mental Health Association
See other Information Center Fact
Mental Health Association in New York State, Inc. is a 501(c)(3)
not-for-profit organization, with 33 local affiliate MHAs serving
54 counties. MHANYS is working to ensure available and accessible
mental health services for all New Yorkers.