Virgin Islanders are still dealing with the loss of homes, businesses or cherished possessions in the wake of hurricanes Irma and Maria, and they may find themselves struggling to cope with the emotional impact of the disaster and the realization of an upcoming hurricane season. Local, territory and federal officials are urging survivors to be aware of the signs of emotional stress and to seek help if they are feeling overwhelmed, according to a press release issued Friday by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
The emotional toll that disaster brings can sometimes be more devastating than the financial strains of damage and the loss of a home, business or personal property.
Signs that indicate someone may be suffering from stress include: having trouble concentrating or remembering things; difficulty making decisions; replaying the events of the hurricane; feeling depressed or sad; experiencing anxiety or fear; having nightmares or trouble sleeping; and feeling overwhelmed. Survivors are encouraged to seek counseling if any person or a family member is experiencing disaster-caused stress.
Mental health experts suggest a few ways to relieve stress following a disaster:
Eat nutritional foods, get adequate sleep and share your thoughts and feelings with others.
Get back into your daily routines as soon as possible.
Get some physical exercise every day.
Spend time with family and friends.
Do not hold yourself responsible for the disastrous event or be frustrated because you feel you cannot help directly in the rescue work.
Children can be particularly vulnerable to the stressful effects of a disaster. Parents, teachers and caregivers need to be alert to signs.
For children ages 5 or younger, watch for behaviors like crying more frequently, clinging, having nightmares, fear of the dark or animals, being alone, a change in appetite, difficulty expressing feelings or a return to outgrown behaviors, such as bed-wetting or thumb-sucking.
Children ages 5 to 11 may become irritable, aggressive or may compete for attention. They may whine, withdraw or lose interest in normal activities.
Adolescents ages 12 to 18 may express rebellious attitudes, experience physical problems or sleep disturbances, become disruptive in the classroom, or begin experimenting with high-risk behaviors, like alcohol or drug use.
Parents and teachers can help reduce stress in children by:
Giving each child some undivided attention every day, even if it is just for a few minutes, to let them know you are there for them. Give hugs and hold them.
Encourage them to communicate with you and listen to what they say. Involve the entire family or classroom if possible. Participating in family preparedness together can also calm children’s fears.
Understand that fears after a disaster are very real. Continuously reassure them.
Help them adjust to disruptions and changes by keeping them informed.
Encourage them to spend time with their friends or peers who can offer support during the recovery process.
Give them all the time and space they need to recover, and temporarily lower your expectations for them.
The Disaster Distress Helpline, 1-800-985-5990, is a 24/7, 365/day a year, national hotline that is dedicated to providing immediate crisis counseling for people who are experiencing emotional distress related to any natural or human-caused disaster.
This toll-free, multilingual and confidential crisis support service is available to all residents in the United States and its territories. Stress, anxiety, and other depression-like symptoms are common reactions after a disaster. Call 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746 to connect with a trained crisis counselor.