Comment: Saul Levin – Preparedness for mental health disasters is important

Half of Americans worry about potential loss of income, 35% about gun violence, and 29% about natural disasters, according to a new survey by the American Psychiatric Association on the impact of disasters on mental health.

When we face these fears, we often take practical steps: save a few cents, buy flood insurance policies, and participate in emergency shelter exercises. But as a psychiatrist, I have to ask: What are we doing to protect our mental health in the event of a disaster? Is our mental health recovery part of our disaster preparedness roadmap?

According to the survey, the response was far from encouraging. After a traumatic event, 60% of us said we turned to friends and family for support. In comparison, only 42% would practice self-care and 37% would be open about their feelings. Only 31% would seek help from a doctor or mental health professional.

The truth is, many people show resilience in the face of difficult circumstances, while others face negative and sometimes life-threatening mental health effects: issues like post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression.

It’s hard to say what our story will mean in the face of a catastrophe, or how we will respond. But for your sanity, there are some things you can do to prepare in advance, such as: B. Understanding the signs to look out for after a disaster and what to do when you’re feeling down.

• When a disaster strikes, take a few simple steps to stay sane. Eat a healthy diet, drink water, sleep, and exercise whenever possible. These factors form the building blocks of mental health. Drug use generally doesn’t help, but relaxation techniques and social activities do.

• Stay informed, rely on credible sources and avoid speculation and rumours. Know your limits and be mindful of whether you’re doom scrolling or sticking to the 24/7 TV news cycle. If you see too much, your stress level increases.

• Stay connected with your friends and family and access local community resources for your health and mental health. It’s good to understand what might be available ahead of time and to ask your community what plans they have for mental health in the event of a disaster.

• Understand that it’s normal to have good days and bad days when recovering from a disaster.

While most people are recovering, there are some red flags. Pay attention to your mood, sleep, energy levels, and appetite. If you feel nauseous or have trouble functioning at work or at home for more than a few weeks, or have thoughts of harming yourself or others, seek help from a doctor.

Your friends and family can help you with the assessment. If you hear things like, “You don’t seem yourself” or “Wow, you’re moody,” it may even be worth asking if they’ve noticed changes in your behavior if it’s been a while since you’ve met felt normal

Be a role model to children and young people and engage them. They need to know that you are there for them and that you can help. Share Mr. Rogers’ lesson, “Look for the Helpers” and see what is accomplished by those who keep us safe. Any routines you stick to or can establish will help, including family time, regular mealtimes, and sleep schedules.

In the past two years, we have all faced the mass catastrophe of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of us will endure other traumatic events in our lives. We can get through it, especially if we face them with the understanding that mental health will certainly be impacted. The more we know, talk about, and prepare, the better off we’ll be.

For more information, see the American Psychiatric Association’s Coping After Disaster and Trauma website.

Saul Levin is the CEO and Medical Director of the American Psychiatric Association. He wrote this for

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