Short-term effects of a disaster

The short term mental and emotional effects of a natural disaster differ from person to person. Individuals are struggling with dealing with loss of livelihood, loss of their home and the chaos and debris surrounding them in the immediate aftermath and the debilitating fear that can follow in the footsteps of a natural disaster.

Children in particular have to deal with a loss of stability, seeing their ‘fearless’ parents and caregivers become anxious and fearful about their futures. They may be dealing with the emotional repercussions of a damaged or destroyed home or school, which was their safety zone, or lost toys, pets and memorabilia. They may have witnessed others severely injured or even witnessed dead bodies and be dealing with the psychological ramifications of such exposure.

Children may exhibit increased, irrational concern over friends and family members, emotional distress and heightened anxiety. They may experience numbness, difficulty making decisions and increased dependency or ‘clingy’ behavior towards adults and caregivers. These symptoms can negatively affect academic performance and friendships.

Reminders of the natural disaster, such as a storm, heavy rain, strong wind and future hurricane warnings may bring renewed fear into the minds of children. It is important that parents, caregivers and healthcare professionals provide help and prepare children to deal with future natural disaster fears.