Disaster Psychology Preparedness
When disaster strikes, physical assistance may not be only part of what survivors need. Psychological First Aid" for disaster-induced stress and trauma will help the survivors.
Disaster-induced stress and trauma are "normal reactions" to an "abnormal" event.
Emotional reactions will vary and may be influenced by:
- Prior experience with the same or similar event
- The intensity and length of the event
- Pre-incident stressors
- The length of time since the event
- Loss of loved ones, housing etc.
Emotional reactions can vary depending upon the phase of the event.
- Before the event, as concern escalates and information is made available through the media and the authorities
- During the event's impact - responding to the immediate effects of the disaster
- Immediately after the event's impact when rescue may be needed
- Immediately after the event when an inventory is made of losses - personal and material
- Well after the event during recovery
Traumatic Stress Reactions
A traumatic stress reaction is an emotional aftershock of a disaster or other significantly stressful event. Symptoms may occur immediately after the event or weeks after the event is over.
Some common signs/symptoms of emotional reactions to a disaster:
- Nausea and/or upset stomach
- Difficulty sleeping
- Anxiety and/or fear
- Grief and/or depression
- Confusion and/or disorientation
- Difficulty concentrating
- Avoidance and/or withdrawing
- Emotional outbursts
- Erratic behavior
Taking care of yourself following a traumatic event . . .
- Try to rest a bit more
- Contact friends and talk
- Reestablish your normal schedule as soon as possible
- Fight against boredom
- Physical activity can be helpful
- Eat well-balanced and regular meals (even when you don't feel like it)
- Avoid alcohol and drugs taken without physician recommendation/prescription
- Recurring thoughts, dreams or flashbacks are normal - don't try to fight them - they'll decrease over time and be less painful
- Seek out professional help if the feelings become prolonged or intense
Taking care of others following a traumatic event . . .
- Listen carefully
- Spend time with the traumatized person
- Offer your assistance and a listening ear even if they have not asked for help
- Help them with everyday tasks like cleaning, cooking, caring for children etc . . .
- Give them time to be alone
- Help them stay away from alcohol and drugs
- Keep in mind what they've been through
- Don't try to explain it away
- Don't tell them that they are lucky it wasn't worse
- Don't take their anger, other feelings or outbursts personally
Get further assistance if . . .
- The person is having life-threatening symptoms
- The person is suicidal or homicidal
- The person is out of control
Emotional emergencies or information 24 hours a day
In Bergen: 262-HELP (201-262-4357)
Physical emergencies: dial 9-1-1 (police, fire & EMS)
(The above information is courtesy of, and used with the permission of, the Bergen County Office of Emergency Management.)