Mental aftermath of Cyclone Fani

Nature is beautiful and kind to us. But every now and then we see the wrath of nature. Natural disasters have been around from times immemorial and affect millions of people around the globe each year.

Recently cyclone Fani hit Orissa, India and Bangladesh. With fair warning and pre-emptive measure to evacuate, thankfully the loss to life was minimal but the damages to property, livelihood, and survivor’s psychology are obvious.

Following a major disaster we see certain psychological factors play:

Acute stress disorder: This may occur immediately following a disaster and present in different ways. Some may report intense or unpredictable feelings in form of anxiety, irritability, moody, grief etc. Sometimes acute sensitivity to outside environment in the form of being startled easily by loud sounds may show in form of anxiety. There may be stress related physical symptoms without any proof of physical complains for e.g. unexplained headaches, chest pain, body ache etc. Sensitivity to environmental factors may also be there. 

Tip: Know that this is temporary and will lessen with time. Try to go back to your previous way of living. Avoid dwelling constantly over the loss, instead focus on what you have.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder:  It presents a few months after the disaster and may last months or years. Small triggers can stir up the old memories, leading to flashbacks, heightened reaction to stimuli, depression, nightmares and even avoidance of the place that brings back the memories.

Tip: This requires the intervention of a Psychiatrist and Therapist. If you notice these symptoms please don’t shy away from seeking professional help.

Major Depressive Disorder: Those who have suffered huge loses in form of family members, livestock, property been displaced from their homes may present with Depression.

Tip: Sadness is normal and temporary. It can be combated with maintaining regular routine, speaking your heart out with dear ones. However, if depression occurs (a more severe form of sadness), then consider seeking professional help.

Panic disorder and Anxiety: This may not only occur in those who directly faced the storm, but also those in neighbouring cities or areas. Often people start getting worried about the next upcoming natural disaster, or constantly researching about it, which leads to constant worry and fear.

Tip: This occurs commonly in the aftermath with individuals who were already susceptible to anxiety. I highly recommend them to not get obsessed with over exploring and “googling” about the storms, outcomes and health repercussion, as this can quickly become an obsession for them. Instead try to focus on exercise, healthy eating, and avoiding unnecessary stress.

Every cloud has a silver lining. Good outcomes of the disaster are:

Resilience: Good things that lead out of these disasters are human resilience. That is the ability to fight worse outcomes. Many individuals at this time find hidden untapped reservoir of their being and begin life afresh. Resilience is a protective factor from mental health issues.

Togetherness: Another good outcome of these disasters is the sense of togetherness the entire nation feels, despite different religious, political and ideological beliefs. Everyone comes together to help those in need. This shows humans ability to empathise with each other.

-Dr Era S Dutta

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