You're not alone: Mental health conditions spike as storms approach

As storms approach, stress, anxiety, PTSD and depression can rise, so can substance abuse.

NEW ORLEANS -- Twelve years since Hurricane Katrina, doctors and therapists have treated many people for the emotional toll the storm took on their lives.

But when a weather disaster is looming, they see a spike in mental health conditions and there is a reason why.
 
Pat Shelby is still renovating her rental property from the Aug. 5 flood. The two inches of water in her house was no where near the eight feet of water her home took on during Hurricane Katrina. Still, it did a lot of damage.

So now the uncertainty of Hurricane Harvey is stressful.

"It's a little scary because with just a normal rain, as you can see, we have a lot of flooding. With the storm coming, that makes me anxious, really anxious," Shelby said.

And she is not alone.

"I think we've had a significant increase in weather related anxiety. We had a lot of PTSD in the years after Katrina," said Dr. Amy Dickson, a Clinical Psychologist at LSU Health Sciences Center.

Hurricane Katrina showed us how life-changing a storm can be. Relationships broke up, domestic violence rose and so did alcohol and drug use, including the abuse of sleep aids.

"Incidents like this trigger us to remember prior incidents," Dr. Dickson said.

As storms approach, stress, anxiety, PTSD and depression can rise, so can substance abuse. Storm preparation can help, so can being with friends.

Anxious children should be reassured that you will protect and care for them. Anxious adults can be helped with a plan of security, action and distraction.

"Some people like to exercise. Some people like to listen to music. Some people clean their entire house," said Dr. Dickson.

Reedy Dugar was rescued in a boat during Katrina, and he has his own way of coping with storm anxiety.

"The way I cope is I keep my faith in the Lord, you know, His will be done," Dugar said.

Help is available if you're feeling emotionally overwhelmed.

In New Orleans, the hotline for LSUHSC Department of Psychiatry for treatment for any kind of emotional difficulties: 504-288-6196

In St. Tammany Parish, Coroner Dr. Charles Preston says "Reach out for help - to a trusted family member, a clergyperson, a counselor, or even a helpline such as 211 or free text service such as 741-741. If you know someone who may be experiencing these symptoms, assess for yourself whether it's OK to approach him or her and suggest counseling. If that's not workable, call us, or use one of those other tools available to everyone.
For more information about the Coroner's Office, visit http://www.stpcoroner.org/ or call 985-781-1150, and find the agency on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/STPcoroner/. 

© 2017 WWL-TV


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