Friday, October 4, 2013

Natural Disasters: Warning Signs for Emotional Distress

Several weeks ago, those of us who live in Colorado had to deal with a highly traumatic natural disaster. We are not used to floods, and the people and the terrain are not equipped to deal with the aftermath. In addition to roads and houses being destroyed, people lost their lives in the flooding. And, many people whose homes were badly damaged did not have flood insurance, leaving them with no way to pay for repairs.

From an emotional standpoint, most of us are going to be okay. Even those who were hardest hit will find a way to move on. But, in the midst of the tragedy and for some time after, it is not uncommon to experience mental health symptoms similar to Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.

If people are experiencing symptoms of anxiety after the flood (or any natural disaster), they may be struggling with a phenomenon known as acute stress disorder. Here are some of the symptoms:

1. Intrusive thoughts: recurrent and involuntary thoughts about the traumatic event
2. Nightmares
3. Negative mood and inability to feel happy
4. An "altered sense of reality" like seeing yourself from someone else's perspective
5. Amnesia for the traumatic event, like not being able to remember what happened
6. Avoidance of all mention of the trauma
7. Sleep or appetite problems
8. Angry mood and behavior
9. Being hyperaware of your surroundings, almost like feeling paranoid
10. Problems with concentration
11. Exaggerated startle response

It is common for people to experience a few of these symptoms after a major trauma. The issues normally
go away on their own, But, if you or anyone you know is experiencing a majority of these symptoms, you may be under acute stress. The stress typically dissipates within about a month. If the symptoms last longer than that, you are at risk for developing a more permanent problem, such as Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. If that is the case, you should see your doctor and think about the possibility of medication or psychotherapy.

Here is a link to a 9 News video where I talk about some of the symptoms of Acute Stress Disorder:

Click here to watch the video if it does not immediately appear in this blog post.

Thanks for reading-- Max Wachtel, Ph.D.

reference: The list of symptoms for Acute Stress Disorder came from the Fifth Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association


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