Feeling Stressed? Could it be storm PTSD?
HOUSTON – Houston will never be the same after Hurricane Harvey. As we work to rebuild, for many people, the impact left behind is not just physical - it's emotional, too. Post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is something you may start to feel weeks after the storm has passed.
"I basically cried from the time I was on the rescue truck, came here, all in tears," said flood evacuee Otisha. "It was just unbelievable, very overwhelming. My cousins say every morning they wake up crying."
"It had me in tears to see so many people," said storm survivor Lee Dye. "I had been in a natural disaster, but I have never been out of place. I saw so many, I was like. Aw man, I just went into tears."
If you were rescued from the flood waters, lost everything you own, or just watched and worried from your home, the images from Harvey are something many of us will never forget. While it's been weeks since the storm has passed, you may just now start feeling symptoms of PTSD.
"What we have seen so far is the acute symptoms in patients which is anxiety, panic, depression," said Dr. Asim Shah, with Baylor College of Medicine Doctor and Director of Mood Disorder Research Program Ben Taub Hospital. "But we are worried about the second wave of symptoms, which will be presented in the next two to three weeks, or after three to four weeks of the trauma."
The symptoms include nightmares, hyper vigilance, increased targeted response, crying in the middle of the night or waking up often.
"Those symptoms can last six months, a year, or longer," Shah said.
Some people cry often, or they don't cry at all, which could be worse.
"People who are not crying may be building up a lot of stress and pressure," Shah said. "Those are the people you should be watching more carefully because it might explode. Crying is a normal reaction. When you cry, you are letting go of your stress. In those situations, it's perfectly fine."
PTSD in kids
For kids, different ages will have different reactions to PTSD.
"Kids will regress," said Dr. Sophia Banu, with Baylor College of Medicine and Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Ben Taub Hospital. "So they might be bed wetting, they might be clingy, they might be more aggressive or more anxious. They might come to you, the adult the caregiver, for reassurance and protection. Give them more hugs, just extra reassurance and comfort."
Kids of adolescent age might be more detached, or may turn to risky behavior or alcohol.
"Don't ignore the warning signs," Shah said. "If the child's grades are falling, if the child is isolating in their room, not coming out, not socializing, not playing, not doing things they used to do. If there is any change in their routine, that means you need to get help."
Experts say acting fast is key. Help may mean talking to a counselor or someone else you trust.
"If you have stress you may want to talk to people who have good influence in your society, or maybe you want to talk to people," Shah said. "You need to do something which is positive for you."
Shah said you should never feel ashamed for getting help.
"A lot of time, people still have the stigma that I don't want to go see a mental health professional. Seeking help is important. These things are treatable, we can get help," Shah said.
What is the difference between PTSD and acute stress?
"Symptoms can be the same and both can develop with even one trauma," Shah said. "Within a month, that is considered acute stress. If that happens after a month, that is considered PTSD. The trauma has to be life-threatening in nature."
Shah said rising water in homes or worrying your home would flood could be categorized as life-threatening.
Either way, you should talk to someone about what you are feeling. Experts recommend calling a religious leader you may know, counselor or psychiatrist in your area, or call up one of the organizations that specialize in PTSD.
Who to call for help:
Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Freedom from Fear (FFF): 718-351-1717
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