The Mental Costs of Disaster

Writing for the Houston Chronicle, licensed psychologist and co-chair of the Texas Psychological Association Disaster Resource Network Judith Andrews offers some thoughts and insights into some of the less obvious but still critical damage that disasters can cause. Speaking from experience as both a long time mental health volunteer, and as an individual in attendance when Charles Whitman began his attack from the Texas Tower, Andrews focuses on discussion of the mental and emotional impacts of these crises, including the phases people often pass through during and after a disaster. She highlights three particular phases:

  • The heroic phase, in which victims and responders are driven by adrenaline, with emphasis on rescue, survival, and hope.
  • The disillusioned phase, in which the initial response fades, to be replaced by frustration, grief, anger, and other negative emotions. This is often accompanied by a loss of compassion, and a shift to blame.
  • The recovery phase, in which people begin to accept and understand the new state of normal, and psychological resilience is tested and built.

Andrews also offers some details on common symptoms to be expected in the aftermath of a crisis, including anxiety, irritability, withdrawal, and others, while noting that the persistence of these symptoms may indicate the need for the assistance of a mental health professional to assist in recovery.