RALEIGH, N.C. -- The emotional consequences of disasters, such as hurricanes Floyd and Irene, can be far-reaching and long lasting. Stress can surface in many forms and it often appears weeks or months after the traumatic event, mental health experts say.
"Dealing with problems caused by the disaster wears on people," said Paul Fay, the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) Human Services branch chief. "Keeping stress levels down as the recovery process continues is no easy task. We see more physical stress-related symptoms when people are exhausted."
Disaster victims are likely to experience at least one of several emotional responses: anger, fatigue, loss of appetite, sleeplessness, nightmares, depression, inability to concentrate, hyperactivity, or increased alcohol or drug use.
Mental health experts suggest a number of ways to relieve the symptoms of emotional distress:
- Talk about your feelings with family, friends and neighbors. Friends and family are good medicine, and sharing common experiences helps people overcome anxiety and feelings of helplessness.
- Get back into daily routines as soon as you can and try to maintain a healthy diet and get plenty of sleep.
- Get some physical exercise every day.
- Children are particularly vulnerable to emotional stress after a disaster, including excessive fear of the dark, crying, fear of being alone and constant worry. Reassure children that they are safe. Encourage them to talk about their fears; emphasize that they are not responsible for what happened; hold and hug them frequently.
North Carolina disaster recovery officials, in partnership with FEMA, have established a program to provide free crisis counseling to persons suffering stress as a result of Hurricanes Floyd and Irene. The costs are underwritten by an $868,000 FEMA grant. It is not necessary to be registered with FEMA to obtain counseling. Those affected by the disaster who are having difficulty with stress-induced problems should call the North Carolina CARE-LINE, 1-800-662-7030, between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday for referral to a counselor. Individuals also may request counseling through the FEMA helpline at 1-800-525-0321; those with speech or hearing impairments should call 1-800-462-7585.
Counties in which this special crisis counseling is available: Beaufort, Bertie, Bladen, Brunswick, Carteret, Columbus, Craven, Duplin, Edgecombe, Gates, Greene, Halifax, Hertford, Hyde, Jones, Lenoir, Martin, Nash, New Hanover, Northampton, Onslow, Pamlico, Pender, Pitt, Robeson, Sampson, Scotland, Tyrell, Washington, Wayne, Wilson.