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The Mental Health Impact of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma

When natural disasters like Hurricanes Harvey and Irma strike, the number one priority is physical safety. But after the initial emergency passes, media coverage fades and public attention shifts, the process of recovery really begins to take shape. For those affected, that can take months – more often, years.

Mental illnesses like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), chronic depression, anxiety and addiction are commonly reported weeks and months after a traumatic event. In the case of Hurricane Katrina, nearly half of survivors suffered from some form of mental health distress after the storm subsided, according to a 2012 study in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. After Hurricane Sandy, more than 20 percent of residents reported PTSD, 33 percent reported depression and 46 percent reported anxiety.

Survivors of traumatic events may begin to experience additional symptoms including:

  1. Interpersonal changes like withdrawal
  2. Irritability and mood swings
  3. A sense of isolation
  4. Trouble sleeping
  5. Confusion

In the face of destruction and despair, it is necessary for people to take the time to mourn their losses, and for communities to create safe spaces for them to do so. Simply being aware of the psychological effects caused by hurricanes, and knowing how to respond appropriately, can make a world of difference.

Mental Health First Aid can help those who have experienced disasters like Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. It is a training program that teaches people how to recognize and respond to symptoms of mental health problems. It is intentional about bringing together and strengthening communities through dedicated conversations about what mental health is and what it may look like.

Our Mental Health First Aid USA team and our committed network of Instructors are here to support you through your recovery. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions or concerns regarding mental health, trauma or coping skills. And if you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of trauma, these resources may be a good place to start.

Please be on the lookout for additional information about how Mental Health First Aid USA and the National Council for Behavioral Health are committed to helping the people impacted by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.