Mental Health Professionals Flock To Support Hurricane Harvey Survivors

By Victoria Kim 09/06/17

Mental health professionals are reporting to shelters in affected areas to help those in need. 

Volunteers from Austin ride a boat in the flooded street,

In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, the Category 4 tropical storm that hit Texas’ east coast in late August, more people are paying attention to the emotional impact and trauma of such a catastrophic event. 

After Hurricane Katrina leveled New Orleans in 2005, experts took note of the strong need for mental health services among those left behind by the storm. Rolling Stone reported 10 years after Katrina that the trauma of the storm—watching people die, losing everything and then having to try to return to normalcy and rebuild a life—may have something to do with the fact that Louisiana in 2015 had the highest rate of young adults who are unemployed nor in school.

“For them, the moves, the uncertainty, the lack of resources, the loss of community, has been devastating,” an NYU public health researcher told Rolling Stone.

This time around, the Washington Post reports that “droves of mental health professionals” are reporting to shelters in the affected areas to offer free services to victims of Harvey.

“Having that early, early support is very important. I think it’s important that people get back to some sense of normalcy and routine,” says Susan Fordice of Mental Health America of Greater Houston.

Jean Rhodes, a psychology professor at the University of Massachusetts, agrees that early support in the aftermath of a natural disaster like Harvey or Katrina is a key part of the healing process. While studying the before-and-after effects of Katrina on low-income New Orleans residents, Rhodes found that almost five years after Katrina hit, one-third of the participants still had enough stress to qualify for a mental illness diagnosis. 

Harvey caused more than 60 confirmed deaths so far—the aftermath of high winds, torrential rain and massive flooding

Iashia Nelson, who relocated to Texas after Katrina, is now in the same position she was in more than 10 years ago—having to rebuild her life from the ground up. The 36-year-old mother of three told the Washington Post that she saw at least four people die in the worst of Harvey. She waited eight hours on a rooftop with no food or water until she was finally rescued.

Nelson says she'll need mental health support to cope. “I’m going to need some counseling. I’m really going to have to talk with someone,” she said. “I’ve been keeping my mind sane because my children are still looking to me, and if I start falling, they are going to fall too.”

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