Effects on Mental Health During a Natural Disaster

Written by The Ready Store

By The Ready Store

Have you ever heard that during an emergency your mind will just be running on adrenaline? Well that might not be totally true, according to new research.

For a long time, researchers have known that cognitive skills have decreased when human made disasters occur. For example, researchers found that there was an increase in traffic accidents in the months following the Sept. 11th attacks.

Now, researchers in New Zealand were presented with a unique opportunity to track how a natural disaster – like an earthquake – effects people’s cognitive skills.

The authors were unexpectedly presented with a unique opportunity to investigate the impact of the devastating 2010 earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand, as they were performing a human performance study with community members at the time of the quake…

“In the midst of the study, between the two sessions, we had a substantial local earthquake, which resulted in the rare opportunity to do a before/after study. We were quick to seize the opportunity[,” said The University of Canterbury’s William S Helton.] …

Normally, participant performance would improve during the second session, but the authors found an increase in errors of omission following the earthquake…

“The article provides evidence for a phenomenon many people report experiencing after a major event like an earthquake,” said Helton. “People would find themselves zoning out and making more errors than usual after the quake.” (Read the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society article.)

The study showed that there was an increase in stress levels, depression and anxiety levels after an earthquake. Obviously, there was also a mental decline and a lowering of cognitive skills after a natural disaster.

While further research is needed to figure out this phenomenon, there are a number of recommendations that people can do to stay mentally healthy during an emergency.

  1. Dr. Sandra Wartski recommends that people stay informed but try to avoid watching too much news. This can increase some levels of anxiety. She recommends that people find a relaxing place where they can process the information while still being informed. (Read her article here.)
  2. Have an emergency plan. By creating a plan for your family, and practicing that plan, your mind wont have to dedicate as much time to processing what to do. Practice creates an environment where you already know what to do.
  3. Have an emergency food/water supply. If you have peace of mind regarding what you’ll be eating, you’ll be able to process other things during an emergency. We recommend having a few freeze-dried meals on hand. That way, you can prepare meals by just adding water.

 

Updated February 13, 2012

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