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Hurricane Katrina: Health Aftermath

What to Expect, How to Cope

Emotional Illness

Humans are remarkably resilient beings. But the trauma of a disaster pushes us to our limits.

Normal feelings include panic, feeling out of control, anger, despair, anxiety, and disorientation. On the other hand, there may also be unusually strong feelings of brotherhood, generosity, and caring for others. All of these powerful emotions are most likely to surface in the days following the disaster.

Those of us who lose loved ones will experience terrible grief. With time, this usually eases. But for reasons not fully understood, about one in 10 people who lose a loved one experience something called complicated grief. They get stuck in the grieving process and need professional help.

The single most important thing that lets people cope with a disaster is helping -- or getting help from -- other people. It's at least as true for children as it is for adults. This help includes:

  • Simply being with others and talking about one's experience.
  • Listening to others. Having answers is not as important as showing empathy. Crying is OK; it does not mean a person has "lost it," but that a person is processing strong feelings.
  • Showing others you care through small deeds and sincere expressions of appreciation or empathy.
  • Don't stop helping. A traumatized person's need for human contact continues for months. And it takes years to pull shattered lives back together.

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