Disasters affect people in many ways. In some disaster situations it may mean loss of loved ones, including relatives, friends, neighbors, or family pets. In others, it means loss of home and property, furnishings, and important or cherished belongings. Sometimes it means starting over with a new home or business. The emotional effects of loss and disruption may show up immediately or may appear many months later.
It is very important to understand that there is a natural grieving process following any loss, and that a disaster of any size will cause unusual and unwanted stress in those attempting to reconstruct their lives.
Some Initial Responses to the Disaster
Reluctance to abandon property
Disorientation and numbing
Difficulty in making decisions
Need for information
Seeking help for yourself and your family
Helpfulness to other disaster victims
Some Later Responses
Change in appetite and digestive problems
Difficulty in sleeping and headaches
Anger and suspicion
Apathy and depression
Crying for "no apparent reason"
Frustration and feelings of powerlessness over one's own future
Increased effects of allergies, colds, and flu
Feelings of being overwhelmed
Moodiness and irritability
Anxiety about the future
Disappointment with, and rejection of, outside help
Isolating oneself from family, friends, or social activities
Guilt over not being able to prevent the disaster
Special Effects on Young Children
Return to earlier behavior, such as thumb sucking or bed wetting
Clinging to parents
Reluctance to go to bed
Fantasies that the disaster never happened
Crying and screaming
Withdrawal and immobility
Refusal to attend school
Problems at school and inability to concentrate
What You Can Do to Help After the Initial Crisis
Help for You and Your Family
Recognize your own feelings.
Talk to others about your feelings; this will help relieve your stress and help you realize that your feelings are shared by other victims.
Accept help from others in the spirit in which it is given. Wouldn't you help them?
Whenever possible, take time off and do something you enjoy.
Get enough rest.
Get as much physical activity as possible, such as running or walking.
Give someone a hug; touching is very important.
Help for Your Child
Talk with your child about his or her feelings and your feelings. You will find that many of your feelings are shared, regardless of your child's age. Encourage your child to draw pictures of the disaster. This will help you understand how he or she views what happened.
Talk with your child about what happened, providing factual information that she or he can understand.
Reassure your child that you and he or she are safe. Repeat this assurance as often as necessary.
Review safety procedures that are now in place, including the role your child can take.
Hold your child. Touching provides extra reassurance that someone is there for her or him.
Spend extra time with your child, especially at bedtime.
Relax rules, but maintain family structure and responsibility.
Praise and recognize responsible behavior.
Work closely with teachers, day-care personnel, baby-sitters and others who may not understand how the disaster has affected your child.
Help for Your Community
Listen when you can to those who are having problems.
Share your own feelings about the disaster.
Be tolerant of the irritability and short tempers others show -- everyone is stressed at this time.
Share information on assistance being offered and possible resources.