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The Mental Health Impacts of Natural Disasters

gatekeeper natural disasters

What role can Gatekeeper support play in mitigating the mental health impact of natural disasters?

Gatekeeper support can be crucial in mitigating the mental health impact of natural disasters. You can provide a sense of belonging, social support, and a safe space for survivors to express their emotions and experiences. 

Gatekeepers can offer practical assistance, such as providing food, shelter, and medical care, which can alleviate stress and anxiety. In addition, you can lead support groups that help survivors connect with others who have gone through similar experiences and feel less alone. 

What is a natural disaster?

A natural disaster is a major adverse event on the earth, such as floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, wildfires, and other geologic processes. These events often cause significant damage to property and infrastructure and can also result in human casualties and displacement. Natural disasters are often unpredictable and challenging to prevent. 

How can a natural disaster impact mental health?

Natural disasters can have a profound impact on mental health. Survivors may experience a range of emotional and psychological reactions, such as fear, anxiety, depression, anger, and grief. They may also have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which can manifest as flashbacks, nightmares, and hyperarousal. 

Disasters can also disrupt social support networks, increase social isolation, and lead to a loss of personal and community identity. These psychological effects can be long-lasting and interfere with daily functioning, relationships, and overall well-being. 

In addition, mental health problems can be exacerbated by the loss of homes, possessions, and livelihoods and by the challenges of rebuilding and recovery. 

Here are some current statistics from the 2022 Emergency Event Database EM-DATon natural disasters:

  • 387 natural hazards and disasters worldwide, resulting in the loss of 30,704 lives and affecting 185 million individuals. 
  • Economic losses totaled around US$ 223.8 billion. Heat waves caused over 16,000 excess deaths in Europe, while droughts affected 88.9 million people in Africa. 
  • Hurricane Ian single-handedly caused damage, costing US $100 billion in the Americas. 
  • The human and economic impact of disasters was relatively higher in Africa, e.g., with 16.4 % of the share of deaths compared to 3.8 % in the previous two decades. 
  • Asia experienced some of the most destructive disasters in 2022.
  • The total death toll of 30,704 in 2022 was three times higher than in 2021 but below the 2002-2021 average of 60,955 deaths, the latter being influenced by a few mega-disasters, such as the 2010 Haiti earthquake (222,570 deaths).

Often, Gatekeepers— the first responders, family members, friends, coaches, teachers, faith leaders, and medical practitioners—are present in the aftermath of natural disasters. And yet many victims will not seek therapy until a year or two after the disaster. So it is crucial gatekeepers know how to best support victims.

Natural disasters can be disorienting and overwhelming experiences. They can disrupt daily routines, damage property and infrastructure significantly, and cause human casualties and displacement. Natural disasters' sudden and unexpected nature can also be emotionally and psychologically distressing, leaving survivors feeling vulnerable, anxious, and uncertain about the future.

Natural Disasters can have long-term impacts on victims.

In addition to the immediate impact, natural disasters can have long-term effects on mental health, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety. These psychological effects can interfere with daily functioning, relationships, and well-being.

However, it's important to note that resilience and recovery are possible after a natural disaster. With the help of Gatekeeper support, mental health resources, and effective disaster preparedness and response measures, survivors can begin to rebuild and heal from the aftermath of a natural disaster.

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