Hurricane Harvey surprised us all with more aggression and rain than most meteorologists predicted or have ever seen before. The tropical storm has attacked the Houston, Texas area, flooding it with more than 50 inches of rain and setting a record for the continental U.S. in the process. It is now moving onto southwestern Louisiana, whose people have been watching the hurricane cautiously and preparing for it accordingly.

Thus far, Hurricane Harvey is responsible for at least 31 deaths and countless injuries, as well as for displacing many families from their homes and from each other. These people have been forced to seek safety and refuge at shelters, which are quickly becoming overpopulated.

And while they’re surely relieved to be out of the torrential rain and life-threatening floods, which claimed the lives of their neighbors, they’re not okay and the tragedy isn’t over yet. They’ve fallen victim to a natural disaster that has promised to change life as they know it.

Traumatic events, such as natural disasters, elicit extreme emotional responses. And in cases such as these, the emotions come on very suddenly and overwhelmingly.

The wrath of Hurricane Harvey was unforgiving. And it didn’t just leave people without homes and material items, its effects disturbed their mental wellness and have the potential to send them into a downward spiral. Traumatic experiences with natural disasters have proven to effect mental health in the short-term as well as the long-term.

Short-Term Effects

The short-term mental health effects a natural disaster may have on someone are typically confronted by crisis counseling immediately following the event. These aids assess effected individuals, as well as support them through the tough experience and its harrowing effects. These short-term effects include:

  • Anxiety
  • Disorientation
  • Inhibited motor functioning
  • Poor concentration
  • Irritability

Long-Term Effects

Oftentimes, the anxiety and inhibitions persist and even develop into more serious mental illnesses. The survivors may appear or pretend to be fine or improving, but a disorder emerges soon after. Possible mental health conditions that can result from experiencing a natural disaster, such as Hurricane Harvey, are:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Acute trauma disorder
  • Anxiety and anxiety-related disorders
  • Depression
  • Panic attacks and panic disorder
  • Nightmare disorder

How Can I Help?

As we continue to follow updates on the powerhouse that is Hurricane Harvey, we should not only extend our sympathy, but a helping hand. Because while we can sympathize with them, many of us cannot empathize or understand exactly what they’re going through. We can only imagine. But we should also be lending our efforts and energy by donating…

    …essentials like food and clothes. Mayor of Houston, Sylvester Turner, says the hurricane survivors are in need of clothing, medical supplies, baby supplies, and food and asks that people donate them to nearby shelters. If you’re not in the area, you may instead drop off food and cleaning supplies at your local food bank and an organization called Feeding Texas will ensure they make it to the victims.

    …blood. You can also help by donating blood, as the South Texas Blood and Tissue Centeris in desperate need of more than 2,000 units of it, specifically O positive and O negative.

    …toys for the kids. The children haven’t lost their drive to play. The mayor says that kids at the shelters could benefit from simple donations of coloring books, dolls, or other toys.

    …cleaning supplies. The Austin Disaster Relief Network is in need of cleaning tools, as well as toiletries, undergarments, and inflatable mattresses. You can get your donations to them by dropping off the materials at the Hope Family Thrift Store in Austin and while you’re there, consider signing up to help with the cleaning efforts.