At the end of January, the state of Georgia experienced a tornado outbreak that has been dubbed the deadliest ever. Additionally, this strand of tornados that ripped through the Peach State is the deadliest January tornado outbreak on record.
More than 15 people lost their lives when the tornado hit the ground, and numerous neighborhoods were completely and entirely leveled. Sadly, this tornado (an EF-2) came right after an EF-1 tornado that damaged the area just roughly three weeks prior. For the people of the area, they had not even recovered from the first tornado before a stronger one ripped through.
According to the Dougherty County Commission Chairman Chris Cohilas, many people within the area “have been separated from their families (with) no homes, no food, no warmth, and no hope.”
For now, those living in the affected areas in Georgia are slowly working on rebuilding what they have lost. However, what has occurred here during the month of January is no small event, and the thought of pulling up the boot straps and moving forward so quickly is seemingly impossible for some – and understandably so.
Effects of Natural Disasters on Mental Health
Natural disasters, such as tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes, can be extremely detrimental to one’s psychological wellbeing. When a disaster occurs, there are those individuals who are able to swiftly rise up and move forward, showing both resiliency and strength. There are many others, however, who experience a different response as a result of surviving a natural disaster.
The top mental health concern that poses a threat to those who live through a natural disaster, such as the tornado in Georgia, is the development of posttraumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.
PTSD is a mental health condition that can lead to the development of a handful of different symptoms, including the following:
- Re-experiencing the event through flashbacks or nightmares
- Avoidance of people, places, or things that triggered the traumatic event
- Startling easily
- Loss of interest in pleasurable things
- Negative thought patterns
When someone experiences a natural disaster, he or she is at a greater risk of suffering from PTSD if he or she has previously experienced the following:
- Having no prior experience with disasters
- Having had poor coping skills prior to the disaster
- Having poor self-esteem
- Lacking the ability to cope with stress
- Being separated from family
- Extreme loss
While there are no statistics coming out of Georgia at the present time regarding the rates of PTSD in those who have survived the most recent outbreak of tornadoes, it goes without saying that the residents of that area are at extreme risk for developing this mental health condition, as they have suffered incredible loss and held great fear within them.
Thankfully, there are options for the treatment of PTSD.
Treatment Options for PTSD
With these tornadoes having caused extreme destruction, it is not an exaggeration to assume that the same damage is occurring within those who have lived through them. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, there are a handful of different treatment options available for those who are grappling with PTSD so that they can improve upon their mental health and begin moving forward with their lives.
The most common form of treatment for PTSD is trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT). This form of therapy occurs between a patient and a counselor and allows the patient to begin understanding and altering the thought patterns that have developed surrounding the trauma itself. TF-CBT also helps patients recognize thoughts that are causing fear so they can be replaced with healthier, more appropriate thought patterns.
Another common treatment for this specific mental health condition is exposure therapy. While certainly not easy, it is highly effective. Essentially, exposure therapy occurs when the patient goes over the traumatic event continuously in an effort to desensitize the severity of the situation.
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, or simply EMDR, is another available option for PTSD treatment. By bringing memories and thoughts surrounding the trauma to the forefront, patients will utilize other stimuli at the same time, such as moving their eyes, tapping their hands, or listening to sounds. This approach is believed to help push the reset button on trauma, allowing patients to overcome their struggles.
In addition, medications can be utilized as a part of treatment, as well as additional approaches to therapy including group therapy and family therapy.
If you or someone you care for has been exposed to a natural disaster, or any other form of traumatic event, please do not hesitate to reach out to us here at Blue Ridge Mountain Recovery Center. We can help make tomorrow more promising through the provision of those treatments above, paired with the community support required to help you or a loved one make significant progress.