The World Health Organization (WHO) defines a natural disaster as “a sudden ecological event of sufficient magnitude to require external assistance”.
Tanushree Backer Talekar, Clinical Psychologist, Masina Hospital said, “Natural disasters are traumatic life events, and hence, extremely overwhelming.” “These are massive, and often unpredictable,” she said.
Exploring the nature of such disasters, a June 2022 study By the University of California, Irvine, the focus focused on indirect, direct and media-based exposure to Hurricanes Irma and Michael, which hit the United States in 2017 and 2018, respectively. It was found that symptoms of post-traumatic stress (PTSD), depression, and anxiety Common ongoing fear and anxiety were identified as well in the study population. This further indicates a link between natural disasters and adverse psychological issues, raising concerns about the impact of climate events on mental health.
“Most people will recover and display resilience over time. However, as climate-related catastrophic storms and other natural disasters such as wildfires and heat waves increase, this natural healing process is exposed to repeated hazards.” can be disrupted,” notes Dana Rose Garfin of the University of California, Irvine, and first author of the study.
As such, in the wake of recent natural calamities such as floods (in Assam, over 4.5 million people affected), earthquakes (in Afghanistan, more than 1,000 people died), cyclones (in the Sundarbans and surrounding areas), heat waves In Iran, Spain and parts of the United States, experts clarify the link between natural disasters and mental health, and what needs to be done.
According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) 2011 review titled Disasters and their consequences for public health“Disasters directly affect the health of a population resulting in physical trauma, serious illness, and emotional trauma. In addition, disasters can increase morbidity and mortality associated with chronic disease and infectious disease through impacts on the health care system.” Huh.”
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In particular, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) states that since “disasters are not affected equally”, their impact varies from person to person and region to region, even Even under normal circumstances, vulnerable groups do not receive adequate help and support due to their physical, emotional, and social limitations and are “prone to both physical and psychological difficulties”.
Loss of resources, loss of daily routine, loss of control over one’s assets and loss of social support were associated with elevated levels of acute psychological distress, noted a 2019-review of the NCBI literature.
Why are natural disasters a matter of concern?
The NCBI research also indicates that mental health issues in general, especially in India, are associated with stigma, which is regarded as a neglected topic. It added that mental health issues caused by disasters are even more neglected. Thus, to fill this gap, there is a need to understand more about disasters and mental health. Agreed Dr Deepthi Reddy Nallu MD, Psychiatry, Citizen Specialty Hospital and said, “The loss of social and economic resources is acknowledged by disaster survivors and the community, but recognizing psychological suffering is usually stigmatized or neglected.”
According to a book of 2020 Public health and disasters: health emergencies and disaster risk management in AsiaOdisha super cyclone in 1999, which affected more than 10,000 people, triggered several studies on mental health vulnerability (Kar et al., 2004) and PTSD (Sharan et al., 1996; Kar et al., 2007), The Indian Ocean tsunami (2004) that killed 10,000 people in India and left many homeless, prompted further research on mental health and psychosocial care for adults. (Baker, 2007; Sharan et al., 1996) and women (Baker, 2009) are disaster survivors.
The magnitude of the psychological trauma and subsequent experiences of disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis can be severe for most people, notes the National Disaster Management Guidelines. Psycho-social support and mental health services in disasters, “The greater the trauma, the more severe the psychological distress and social disability,” it says.
Not only this, ncbi It also notes how various studies have explained, for example, the physical and psychological health effects of flooding. During and after floods, people suffering from physical health effects such as cold, cough, flu, sore throat, or throat infection and headache, skin rashes, gastrointestinal illness, chest disease, high blood pressure, asthma also psychological stress experience, it notes.
Psychologist Kamna Chhibber said that in situations where even the support system is compromised, the effects can be more long-lasting and devastating. “People are known to develop mental health-related illnesses such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, insomnia,” Chhibber said. indianexpress.com,
From a psychological point of view, such disasters can affect people in the short term and in the long run. Agreeing with Chhibber, Talekar explained that the psychological toll “can persist for years”. “Living people go through intense emotions like shock, pain, confusion and disbelief,” Talekar said.
It can also arise in the form of substance dependence, and adjustment problems that affect the proper functioning of the individual as well as the community resulting in family conflicts, according to the NCBI.
What can be done?
The first would always be to provide medical help at the earliest and realistic solutions to cope. “These will be practical things that are related to where people need to go, access to medical services, food, shelter, etc. The availability of information is key to ensuring that panic does not occur and that people feel they are being led calmly. , in a collected manner that will ensure their safety and security,” explained Chhibber.
According to NDMAIndia’s mental health response during disasters “has evolved from identifying and treating individual psychiatric cases to strengthening the coping abilities of survivors in a community.” (Kishore Kumar et al., 2000)Strategies for the National Mental Health Program (NMHP) include: Psychosocial care and mental health services in disasters (PSMHS). Dr Reddy Nallu said that acknowledging the psychological impact of a natural disaster is the first step towards coping strategies.
The NDMA guidelines also aim to improve the coping capacity of the disaster-affected communities by providing them with appropriate support for rebuilding their lives. Service networks include psychiatric units of tertiary health facilities, and educational institutions, clinical psychologists, social workers, NGOs, paramedical professionals, community-level workers, and volunteers.
“Providing real-time practical solutions to problems can help build hope and resilience and help in coping,” Chhibber said.
“Reassurance through the presence of supportive others can go a long way in helping individuals. Encouraging individuals to discuss their experiences is an imperative that enables them to share, express, and gain perspective. is,” she said.
Psychiatrist Dr Samir Parekh concurred. He said that instead of suppressing feelings, it can help when one tries to share experiences with people who may have had a similar or similar experience. “Individual, group counseling, or/and medications can help gradually cope with traumatic events with social interactions,” he explained.
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