Now we rebuild. With Tropical Storm Harvey behind us, Galveston County is left with the monumental task of rebuilding lives, homes, and businesses. And in many cases, these threads creating the fabric of our communities are at risk.
Furniture can be replaced, cars repaired, but there is something much larger here – the potential for psychological suffering as people face the long road of rebuilding their lives.
Mental health is an underreported aspect of disasters. The lasting effects on our emotions or psyche tend to live quietly beneath the surface of our minds, quietly brewing or festering until a trigger moment arrives. And it is the trauma of the recent flooding that may put many people in Galveston County at risk
According to the US Department of Veteran Affairs, studies point to 50% or more affected from natural disasters suffering from clinically significant distress. And unaddressed, such psychological scars can lead to depression, feelings of helplessness, and create a corrosive force on impacted individuals. This condition is more widely referred as post-traumatic stress disorder or simply PTSD.
Times of disaster can cut people off from their natural world of interaction, creating feelings of being overwhelmed and an unsettling sense of depression. These elements can lay in wait for days, week, months, or even years. But they are real.
In Galveston County there are thousands of people unable to either return or to live in their homes in a normal fashion. And to most, a home is a safe space, a place where you retreat to when the day is done or you need to unplug your mind. The challenges for children can be even more dire and unsettling as young emotions are less developed.
The World Health Organization regularly deals with the emotional challenges of disasters. Key contributors to the condition include family separation, loss of employment, concerns for safety, and a low level of familiarity in those helping or providing resources. And if anyone remembers Abraham Maslow’s Theory of Human Motivation, these elements are rooted in the foundation of our basic needs.
This is not to say the outpouring of generosity from individuals, companies, and organizations from across the nation in unneeded. On the contrary, they play an important role in the rebuilding of both the immediate and near-future needs of those impacted. And we thank them for opening their hearts.
But as a community we need to understand there is something that cannot be trucked in from surrounding states. What we need to do is recognize the need to offer support and care to those who are in the crosshairs of this tragedy. For every truck filled with water, we will also need to understand those on the receiving end may need our help as they navigate this life-changing event.
Galveston County needs to recognize and take action to address the potential for this power symptom of natural disasters taking hold. Not doing so could further destroy the lives of people who unknowingly slip into a dark and dangerous place.