Hurricane Ian has left millions of people impacted in its wake. People are struggling with no power, no water or no food. Some have no home to return to.
While many Floridians are focused on cleaning up the storm’s aftermath — clearing fallen trees, repairing power lines and rebuilding homes — some residents are dealing with the ripple effect of emotional and mental-health issues that tend to follow natural disasters. Hurricanes can open the floodgates for anxiety, stress, fear and PTSD triggers. We know that local mental-health providers are still working with families affected by Hurricane Michael in 2018.
In November 2020, a study conducted by the University of Delaware examined the impact of 281 natural disasters on suicide rates during a 12-year span. It found that overall suicide rates increased by 23% when compared to rates before a natural disaster. And after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, nearly half of the survivors suffered from some form of mental distress, according to a 2012 study in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry.
I encourage all residents, especially those who struggle with PTSD and anxiety, to take advantage of the resources and local helplines provided by Florida Behavioral Health Association members to help people address the trauma and emotional distress of the hurricane and to begin to heal. It may take weeks, months or even years to grasp the severity of what has happened. People should seek help now.
In addition, Florida’s first lady Casey DeSantis created Hope for Healing, a resource hub to help people get connected to mental-health and substance-use services.
Nationally, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s disaster distress helpline — 1-800-985-5990 — provides crisis counseling to those experiencing emotional distress from natural disasters. Additionally, the national suicide prevention lifeline is 988, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website offers tips for self-care following a traumatic event.
For the most comprehensive and up-to-date statewide information, visit Florida’s Division of Emergency Management’s website to find emergency information.
I want to remind Floridians that you are not alone. There is help available.
Melanie Brown-Woofter is president and CEO of the Florida Behavioral Health Association.