Emotional Impacts of Disaster

For more than 30 years, mental health provider Dr. Nancy Bohl-Penrod has focused her counseling on emergency responders and those who have experienced disaster. Dr. Nancy Bohl-Penrod has also facilitated professional training programs and consultations to help professionals facilitate post-disaster debriefing.

When disaster occurs, the psychological ramifications last long after the event. Disasters shake a person’s world view and introduce a sense of vulnerability that can affect daily life for years. Experts have found that most individuals possess a naturally developed sense of safety and a belief in the world as logical. Disaster, whether natural or unnatural, challenges this lifelong assumption and, in many cases, makes the world seem threatening. This leads to a broad range of psychological disruptions, many of which do not even begin to affect daily life until significantly after the event. Such disruptions include sleep disturbances, trouble concentrating, tearful outbursts, and feelings of numbness.

For this reason, the first key coping mechanism for disaster victims is awareness. By accepting that emotional disturbances will arise and noticing them when they do, the affected individual may be more likely to address these disturbances rather than being confused by them. Effective coping skills will vary according to the needs of the individual person, but most often include remaining busy, staying physically active, and relying on social supports. Mental health professionals, when accessible, can also indicate which coping skills are appropriate to a particular situation.

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