Question of the Week

September 5, 2005

Wherever you are located as you receive this, I am hoping that it finds you safe and well. Like many in the United States--and even those outside this country--I have spent this past week watching helplessly from afar, the devastation of Katrina. There are others watching, however, who are seeing these images through different eyes.

"HOUSTON (AP) - The stress and tension of being forced out of her home in New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina and having to watch the storm's destructive aftermath on television was overwhelming at times Tuesday for Toshika Barnes. 'We saw my sister's neighborhood, just the rooftops. Nothing's there. She knows she doesn't have a house. It is just depressing and upsetting right now,' said Barnes, a nurse, as she started to cry. ... Like her, other evacuees began feeling intense frustration, anger and sadness over their plight Tuesday. ... Since Monday [August 29, 2005], Katrina has wreaked havoc across the Gulf Coast, flooding most of New Orleans and devastating cities in Mississippi and Alabama. 'These people are just helplessly watching (the destruction) on a television monitor,' said Dr. Stuart Yudofsky, chairman of the Menninger Department of Psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. Their feelings of frustration would be 'channeled into rebuilding. But at this point there is nothing they can do. They can't go back yet.'"

Frustration is only one of the many raw emotions being felt by those watching their homes and communities from distant safety.

"Many of those affected by Hurricane Katrina may be feeling shock as well because they thought the hurricane had missed them, but the devastating flooding added an element of surprise. Denial involves your not acknowledging that something very stressful has happened, or not experiencing fully the intensity of the event. You may temporarily feel numb or disconnected from life."

Even those who are not directly affected are feeling some of the general stress that has spread throughout the country.

"The effects of a hurricane like Katrina will be long-lasting and the resulting trauma can reverberate even with those not directly affected by the disaster. It is common for people who have experienced traumatic situations to have very strong emotional reactions. ... Shock and denial are typical responses to large-scale natural disasters, especially shortly after the event. Those who were in close proximity to danger or who lost family members or even pets may be particularly affected. Both shock and denial are normal protective reactions."

While some are stressed by the helplessness of being so far away and unable to personally help where there is so much need, others are closer to the disaster than they ever thought they would be.

"The human violence that emerged after Hurricane Katrina as survivors desperately sought food and water will worsen the psychological debris left by the natural disaster itself, U.S. health experts warned on Thursday [September 1, 2005]. The struggle to stay alive is likely to trigger a rash of stress-related issues that can lead to depression and anxiety, especially among vulnerable children, experts said. ... That stress can add to the problems of coping with the aftermath of the storm itself, which wiped out much of the U.S. Gulf Coast, flooding Louisiana and Mississippi and displacing tens of thousands of people. Scarce food and water has led to looting and arson fires. On Wednesday, a National Guard soldier was shot and wounded in New Orleans. Being tired, hungry and hot also makes the aftermath hard to deal with, experts said."

We may never know exactly how many families lost homes, how many people lost beloved pets, or how many children (as well as teens and adults) lost precious comfort objects that would benefit them all the more now that they are in such need of comfort.

"The intense anxiety and fear that often follow a disaster can be especially troubling for surviving children, especially if children were victims of the disaster or were separated from their families. Some may regress and demonstrate younger behaviors such as thumb sucking or bed wetting. Children may be more prone to nightmares and fear of sleeping alone. Performance in school may suffer. Other changes in behavior patterns may include throwing tantrums more frequently, or withdrawing and becoming more solitary."

Even more devastating, we may never know how many people lost family members, or how many entire families lost their lives. So, here we are. FEMA, the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and many more local communities, schools, churches, and individuals are trying to reach out to those in need.

"Children and Their Response to Disaster In a disaster, they'll look to you and other adults for help. How you react to an emergency gives them clues on how to act. If you react with alarm, a child may become more scared. They see our fear as proof that the danger is real. If you seem overcome with a sense of loss, a child may feel their losses more strongly. Children's fears also may stem from their imagination, and you should take these feelings seriously. A child who feels afraid is afraid. Your words and actions can provide reassurance. ... [A]s an adult, you need to keep control of the situation. When you're sure that danger has passed, concentrate on your child's emotional needs by asking the child what's uppermost in his or her mind. Having children participate in the family's recovery activities will help them feel that their life will return to 'normal.' ... Be aware that after a disaster, children are most afraid that--*the event will happen again. *someone will be injured or killed. *they will be separated from the family. *they will be left alone."

Not that long ago, it seems as though we were all watching images of the tsunami half a world away. This time, the disaster came to us... and many more of of our friends and neighbors are living it in some real way, not just watching it in awe.

Now what?

(For further information, including (but not limited to) the previous topics, copy and paste the above link.)

Questions of the Week:
Now what? Where can a person begin to deal with emotionally and mentally picking up the pieces after being personally touched by an event such as Katrina? How might this process be different for different people dealing with the same tragedy? How might this be different for someone in Louisiana than it is for someone in Idaho? What might be the same? Where do you begin to deal with such an overwhelming experience? How could you help younger siblings, or other children in your life, cope in the face of such a tragedy?

What tragedies (large scale and small scale) have people dealt with in your area? On a personal level, how have these events affected people in your community as those in the Gulf Coast have been personally affected by Katrina? In what ways might those who are not directly touched by such events be indirectly affected? (In what ways are people all over the nation affected by Katrina?)

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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