Looking after your mental health following a disaster
It's common for communities and individuals affected by a disaster to experience a range of thoughts, feelings and behaviours that can be intense, confusing and frightening. Fear, for example, is an important and normal reaction that helps activate our body and mind to make decisions to protect our own life and the lives of loved ones.
It's important to know the difference between a common reaction to a stressful or traumatic event and signs that indicate you should seek more support.
These reactions can be severe and are at their worst in the first week after the event, however, in most cases, they fade over a month. If a person's day-to-day functioning is seriously affected for more than one month after the event, it's important to discuss it with a GP or mental health professional. These reactions include:
- feeling overwhelmed
- feeling numb and detached
- inability to focus
- inability to plan ahead
- constant tearfulness
- intrusive memories or bad dreams related to the event
- sleep disturbances
- constant questioning – "What if I had done x, y or z, instead?"
- 'replaying' the event and inventing different outcomes in order to be prepared should it happen again.
It is also important to understand that a friend, loved one or work colleague may see these reactions in you, often when you do not. They may see you are detached, unfocused, anxious, or tearful without provocation. Listen to the opinions of people that you trust. It is a sign of respect to friends and family to act on their advice and discuss these issues with a GP or mental health professional.