Emotional damage from natural disasters can add to stress levels long after crisis is over
Eileen Yager, Communications Officer, Extension & Ag Information, University of Missouri Extension
The emotional damage of droughts, floods and other natural disasters
can be felt long after the immediate crisis is over, according to
a licensed clinical social worker at the University of Missouri.
Families should watch for signs of stress and depression, and
get help if needed, said Sherry Nelson, an MU Extension human environmental
sciences specialist in Palmyra, Mo.
“People have different sensitivities to stress,” she said. “Some
people are more likely to experience the symptoms of stress, depending
on their physical or psychological makeup.”
“The thing about stress is that it tends to pile up. Often the
straw that broke the camel's back may be pretty little,” Nelson
“It may not come up as an obvious money issue,” she said. “It
may come up in other ways.”
Sleepless nights, changes in appetite, excessive use of alcohol
or drugs, headaches, forgetfulness, irritability, fatigue, anxiety
and depression are common among people suffering from prolonged
Avoidance and denial also are common, Nelson said. “Sometimes
people think ‘If I just work harder, this will all come out OK.’”
That approach may work against you, she said, adding that stress
can affect the ability to concentrate making a person more prone
to injuries, she said.
“Depending on how severe the stress is and if we catch it early,
we can do things to alleviate it,” Nelson said. “Often being able
to talk about it does us so much more good than keeping a stiff
Nelson recommends that family members discuss their current situation
and what it may mean for the future.
“Finances are not easy to talk about,” she said, but good communication
among couples is an important part of problem solving. “Sometimes
we figure out our own solutions by talking to someone.”
Spouses should not only discuss the family’s financial situation
among themselves, they should be open with children living at home.
“Kids are pretty smart and can pick up on the fact that something’s
wrong,” she said, “so it’s important to talk about what’s going
on, instead of letting them guess or make up what’s going on.”
How much detail parents share will depend on the child’s age,
maturity and involvement in the issue at hand, Nelson said.
“You don’t have to go into a lot of specifics about the family
finances,” she said. “It might just be talking about the things
you can’t afford right now, for example, stopping and getting fast
Talking with someone outside the family, a close friend or member
of the clergy, who can be non-judgmental about the situation, also
can be helpful, she said.
“Forming those support groups can help you get through a difficult
If the symptoms of stress are severe or if a person begins thinking
about suicide, Nelson said, it is time for professional help.
“We’re talking about a situation where people are under a tremendous
amount of stress,” she said. “With professional help, they can get
what they need to pull themselves back from that edge.”
“Mental health professional are simply another resource in coping
with a health problem.”
People who need help can contact their physician, local mental
health centers, or the Missouri Department of Mental Health at (800)
364-9687 or visit
“Many providers offer services on a sliding scale, and services
are often covered by health insurance,” Nelson said.
Source: Sherry Nelson, (573) 769-2177
Last update: Tuesday, June 28, 2011