Coping with mental health issues following a disaster

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mental healthFukushima and the forgotten victims

Earlier this week, I received the following email from a colleague:

For a second time, along with a team of Americans, its off to Japan to make a difference for victims in shelters in and around Sendai, Japan.

Please consider what you might be able to do to acknowledge the remaining victims in the shelters who were not lucky enough to have any money or relatives that would enable them to leave the shelters.

As their hope fades, their chances of choosing suicide increase (Japan has one of the highest suicide rates in the world).

Remember to appreciate and value who you have and what you have – while you still have them…

I imagine that given the Japanese culture, suicide is seen as an honorable choice rather than dependence on others.  But who talks about this?  Certainly our MSM has all but ignored the Fukushima disaster in recent weeks  and I don’t recall a single mention anywhere of the shelters and sense of hopelessness and helplessness that is being felt by those with no where to go.

From the Associated Press:

Survivors of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami need long-term mental health care to protect them from debilitating conditions that could lead to suicide, Japan’s government said Friday.

In its annual policy paper on suicide prevention, the Cabinet Office decided to include a separate section on the psychological needs of disaster victims. The report said survivors may be undergoing shock, stress and depression from the overwhelming losses. They may also feel guilty for escaping death.

More than 23,000 are dead or missing, and entire towns along Japan’s northeast coast were washed away.

Observers around the world have lauded survivors’ calm demeanor in the face of tragedy and destruction, but the report warns against assumptions that the Japanese could largely withstand problems like post traumatic stress disorder.

“In fact, we cannot determine this until we are able to obtain detailed information,” the report said.

Japan already has one of the highest suicide rates in the industrialized world, with nearly 25 suicides per 100,000 people. That compares to about 11 per 100,000 in the United States.

Don’t know if I told you but I recently attended a local Red Cross chapter meeting and apparently mental health issues are one of the most common post disaster ailments.  Who knew?  My assumption was that food, water and shelter were the most dire needs but surprisingly, dealing with the mental health consequences of a disaster are high on the list of rescue and deployment needs.

So how does one cope?  Is there some way we can prepare ourselves mentally for a disaster or other catastrophe?  I have been noodling this around for about a week and here are my thoughts.

Tips for preparing yourself mentally for a natural disaster

Dealing with a stressful situation is highly individualized since each of us brings to the table a unique set of emotions based on prior life experiences.  Still, there are things we can do to prepare ourselves mentally for the big IF.

1.  Develop resilience by practicing your ability to cope with daily ups and downs in life now, while you are safe.  How?  Next time a stressful situation occurs, take a deep breath and think about the long term consequences of what has happened.  In the big picture of life, is this single occurrence going to change things?  Is it worth a temper tantrum or other form of meltdown?  Try to stay calm and divert your stress by taking on a productive or relaxing activity.  The more your practice staying calm during the daily fluctuations in life, the better you will cope when something major occurs.

2.  Manage fear through knowledge.  Be informed.  Learn to shelter in place.  Know your neighbors.  Scope out a get away route in advance.  The internet has thousands of resources available for free.  So does your local library.  The more you know, the less you will suffer the consequences and debilitating effects of fear.

3.  Prepare your supplies and have an emergency kit.  This sounds so simple but how many of you read about emergency food and water supplies and a bug out kit but have done nothing?   Start small and take baby steps (see Fast Forward to 2011. This is the year to embrace self-sufficiency.)

4.  Have a plan and write it down.  Review your options ahead of time so you have concrete decisions about what to do before something unexpected happens.  I have often mentioned that a good place to post your plan is on the inside of your hall closet door.  When a disaster occurs there will be no scrambling around, no need to think about the next step, no need to panic and say “what now?”.  Having a plan in place – whether it is 100% workable or not – with be calming and will free your mind to react to the catastrophe is a product manner.

What else can I do to help myself and others after a disaster or other catastrophe?

Good question.  Although you may feel that life may never be the same again (and it probably won’t), here are some additional tips for coping.  And please, take my advice and include this list in your emergency kit, on your emergency flash drive , and posted on your closet door.

  • Get your supplies kit and use your plan.
  • Take care of your immediate and ongoing physical needs.
  • Get exercise, rest, drink plenty of water and eat healthy meals whenever you can.
  • Return to your daily routines whenever and wherever possible.
  • Recognize people’s strengths, including your own, as well as their suffering.
  • Share your experiences when you are ready to do so.
  • Spend time with other people.
  • Remind yourself of your strengths.
  • Reflect on how you have dealt with problems in the past.
  • Ask for help when you need it.
  • Remind yourself that in time, distressing feelings will fade.
  • Find opportunities to unwind.
  • Allow others to spend time by themselves. Spend time by yourself if that helps.
  • Mark the event in a symbolic way, such as a service or memorial, alone or with other people

Enjoy your next adventure, wherever it takes you  through common sense and thoughtful preparation!


From the Bargain Bin:  I don’t know about you but I am sick of paying $40 or more for a set of ear buds that fail after a year (or less of use.)  Not only that, most only come with a 90 day warranty.  Time to wise up S.W.  My nice set of Sonix ear buds are now toast so this time I am going to purchase some cheapies and simply assume that I will need to replace them every few months.  I found these at Skullcandy INK’d Earbuds at Amazon on sale for $9.95 with free shipping.  This is about $4 less than they were a few days ago and with over 400 five star reviews, they can’t be too bad.  Lots of neat colors, too.

Emergency Essentials is a great source of food for long term storage as well as supplies.  I just received an email letting me know that they now have Mountain House products in stock.  This is great news since Mountain House foods have been backordered for quite some time.


Coping with mental health issues following a disaster — 6 Comments

  1. The media has glossed over the poor mental state of some of the Fukushima victims. Thank you for writing about an issue that has been largely ignored, and giving concrete tips on what we can all do to prepare our ourselves mentally.

    • The thought of those people stuck in shelters with no sense of hope for the future brought tears to my eyes. Like you, I find it a travesty that the MSM has ignored the plight of the Japanese people, who, no matter how well prepared they may have been, are now mired in an impossible spiral of despair. It is very sad when suicide is viewed as the only way out.

      — Gaye

  2. I was stationed in Japan for a year in the late 1970’s. I liked the Japanese people very much. They have an orderly society, and a highly integrated social system in which everyone has their place and the respect that brings. It’s both a strength and a weakness. If a Japanese person feels humiliated or ashamed, or inadequate in some way, many regard suicide as a way to redeem themselves. Their culture recognizes suicide as a noble act in many cases, and they have no religious injunctions against it unless they happen to be Christian. There is no cultural stigma. I grant you, much may have changed in Japan since I was there, so perhaps the younger people aren’t that way, but I feel certain the people of my generation haven’t changed that attitude. “Duty is heavier than a mountain, death is lighter than a feather.”

  3. Mental health issues concern me also. I continue to be amazed at people interviewed on the news after a tornado has blown everything they own into the next state and they can still say, “I’m just grateful everyone’s alright.”

    Of course I’d be thanking God for sparing my loved ones, but somehow, I don’t see myself smiling into the camera and shrugging off the loss of photos, personal belongings, and (my heavens!!) our “preps” that we have worked for years to accumulate. Certainly it is just “stuff,” but stuff I’d worked mighty hard on! (I probably need to pray more about this!).

    I know that those “snapshots” of people at that one moment in time probably aren’t really representative of all the emotions they feel or will feel either. No doubt, they will go through grief and maybe anger, but we don’t see it, so we can assume they bounce right back and all is well the next day.

    Couple that with a mega-disaster like Japan had, where things won’t get back to normal for a long long time, and I can only imagine how mental health suffers. It is so good that you bring this topic up! We must not forget them- they will need help and prayers for a years.

    BTW, I meant to tell you before that I always look forward to reading your Tips of the Day- they are a great feature that sets your blog apart from others. I was tickled pink (and honored) to see that you found something worthwhile on our site. Thanks for the encouragement!

    • The subject of mental health following a crisis has been on my mind a lot lately. I realize that as individuals we can only do what we can do, but if nothing else, we can reach out with compassion to those around us that are suffering. At the same time I also believe that we need to be careful that we do not get sucked in to a doom and gloom mentality. As bad as things may appear, personal sanity dictates a positive, glass half-full attitude. This is a subject I come back to time and time again on the blog.

      And wow! thanks for the kudos on the tips. I have often wondered if anyone reads them – or cares LOL.

      — Gaye

  4. I know many in the prepping community are skeptical of anti-depressant medication, but I’m someone for whom it is a daily necessity. I’m in the process of building up a reserve. I would suggest asking your doctor for a prescription even if you don’t need them now. First, because you or another member of your team might see some benefit from them during a time of incredible stress. Second, even if nobody on your team needs them, they will be a barter item worth more than their weight in gold to someone else. I speak from personal experience–while there are many non-pharmaceutical methods to reduce depression and anxiety, there isn’t a substitute for some of us. Are they over-prescribed? Certainly. But by building up a supply you don’t personally need, you may save the life of another.

    Even if you lack insurance, some of the medications are very inexpensive. Wal-mart has a program:

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