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Post-hurricane mental health tips

Here are post-hurricane mental health tips to deal with the widespread psychological effects of Hurricane Ian. Experts expect these impacts will be wide reaching, not only for people in Southwest Florida, but also to teams from around the nation who have arrived to assist in recovery efforts.  

It is inevitable that loss of life, home, belongings, jobs, businesses and community will affect everyone, whether they were impacted personally or not. Studies have shown that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is the most common mental health disorder following natural disasters, with a prevalence of 30% to 40%.  

However, not everyone exposed to trauma develops PTSD. It is important to recognize prolonged symptoms after the event that can lead to larger health issues, which left untreated can have a significant impact on a person’s life.  

With support from community and family, as well as self-care and recognizing and addressing symptoms, most of us bounce back. There are also effective treatments for PTSD and other mental health conditions, so early identification and assessment are critical. 

Signs of Stress

Here are some things to look for that may indicate a person is under stress. 

  • Emotional. Being anxious, fearful, sad and/or angry. Guilt, perhaps because of feeling they could do more or because they were unharmed while so many others were not. Having too much energy or no energy at all. Feeling disconnected, uncaring and numb.  
  • Physical. Gastric and stomach issues, headaches or other pains for no apparent reason, eating or drinking too much, sweating or chills, shaking, muscle twitches or being easily startled.  
  • Behavioral. Trouble falling and staying asleep or sleeping too much; using alcohol, tobacco, drugs or prescription medication to cope; having difficulty accepting help or helping others; isolation, irritation.  
  • Cognitive: Having trouble thinking clearly, concentrating and remembering, confusion, worrying, difficulty making decisions or listening to others.  

It is important to note that these distressing feelings about a disaster usually fade over time (generally by 2–4 weeks after the event) as routines return.  

Below are some tips for various groups that can also help anyone dealing with post-storm stress. 

Post-hurricane mental health tips for first responders

First responders are familiar with high-intensity traumatic events, but extreme exposures can take a toll on them, too.  

It is important for emergency responders to:   

  • Look out for one another.  
  • Stay connected with family and friends for support.  
  • Acknowledge stress, difficulties and emotions.  
  • Be aware of vulnerability and signs of burnout and compassion fatigue.  
  •  Be kind to yourself. 

Post-hurricane mental health tips for survivors

Piles of debris, disruption to routines, and constant news coverage impact everyone, but here are some tips to help:  

  • Connect with others and share your experiences, check in, send messages of support and try to plan something enjoyable.  
  • Exercise helps get rid of the buildup of stress hormones and can be as simple as taking a walk, stretching or meditating.  
  • Take deep breaths, which can help move stress out of the body and calm you.  
  • Listen to music to help your body relax.  
  • Get enough sleep and rest each day.  
  • Eat healthy food and drink plenty of water.  
  • Avoid caffeine, tobacco and alcohol, especially in large amounts as their effects are multiplied with stress and can be harmful.  

Post-hurricane mental health tips for children

Compared to adults, children often suffer more from exposure to disasters—including psychological, behavioral and physical problems, as well as difficulties learning in school.  

Reactions to trauma in children vary widely and can include regression, demanding extra attention and thinking about themselves over others. These responses are natural and should not be met with anger or punishment. A sensitive, nurturing and calm adult is most important to children’s well-being after a disaster.  

Other tips:  

  • Help them understand what is happening with basic information but without alarming details. 
  • Be sure to ask children what questions or concerns they have. Often, they have fears based on limited information or because they misunderstood what they heard.  
  • Do not tell children they should not be worried. Help them learn how to deal with distressing feelings rather than pretend that these feelings do not or should not exist.  
  • Make sure they feel safe by establishing predictable routines and meeting basic needs.  
  • Allow children to play and interact. Boredom can intensify negative thoughts and behaviors.  
  • Limit children’s exposure to images and descriptions of the disaster, including media and adult conversations. This is especially important for children, but it is critical for adults, too.  
  • Find age-appropriate ways for children to help. Even very young children benefit from being able to make a positive difference.  
  • Emphasize that what happened is not their fault and express hope for the future.  
  • Look for changes in behavior that suggest your child is having difficulty coping.  

There is good news. If stress and trauma become overwhelming, there are resources and professional help available. Also, a phenomenon known as the “pulling together effect,” where communities sharing a traumatic experience are more likely to support one another, often strengthens social connectedness. 

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