The Aftermath of Natural Disasters: Impact on mental health of survivors

27 June 2020 / By Social Media

India is one of those countries that are highly prone to natural calamities, including, floods, drought, earthquakes, cyclones and landslides. In the past many years, cyclones have affected the coastal parts of the country. In the past two months, the country has been hit by two major storms of this natural calamity in the form of Cyclone Amphan and Cyclone Nisarga. Both were severe cyclonic storms hitting the states of West Bengal and Maharashtra, causing loss of human lives, loss of livelihood, of public and private property and damage to infrastructure. Trees and communication systems in these areas were uprooted for a number of days. The roads were flooded with contaminated sea water which has destroyed the soil, thus rendering the livelihood of many people in danger. Around 96 people lost their lives in the wake of Cyclone Amphan, and it was labeled as a “bigger disaster than Covid-19” by the Chief Minister of West Bengal.

Puri: A view of the destruction caused by Cyclone Fani after its landfall, in Puri, Friday, May 3, 2019. 
(Image source: PTI)

Natural disasters are a complex global problem and an inevitable truth of our life. Every year individuals and communities are being affected by disasters, which disrupts their mental health and well-being. India is vulnerable to natural disasters and other types of disasters which leads to a significant loss in the affected population. The aftermath of disasters has a significant impact on the socio-economic and mental state of the victims. Mental health issues caused by natural disasters are generally a neglected area. While the socioeconomic factors are addressed by the government interventions, psychosocial interventions are also being emphasized which involves overcoming the trauma caused and adapting to the life post-disaster.

In what the World Health Organization (WHO) categorizes as “indirect impact”, loss of life, shelter and livelihoods can have both a short- and long-term mental health effect. Individuals face fear of raging storm and anxiety for their future; they have to come to terms with the loss of life and property; and they may display symptoms of adjustment disorder, post- traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and acute stress disorder. The emotional stress can undermine the resilience of individuals and communities, placing further physical, emotional and financial burdens onto recovery efforts. The groups such as children, pregnant mothers, the disabled and those with pre-existing mental illness are more severely impacted. The displaced communities have to tackle both immediate problems such as access to water and toilets in shelters, and plan returning and rebuilding home and livelihood.

Psychosocial support and mental health services are embedded in India’s disaster management framework. The National Guidelines on Psychosocial Support and Mental Health Services in response to disasters was released in December 2009 so as to provide overall guidance for efficient and effective qualitative service provision to survivors. Community workers intervene and provide the required psychosocial support to the survivors. Authorities have talked about capacity development of community workers to conduct interventions such as active listening, counseling and identifying symptoms of mental stress in the wake of a disaster. Resilience plays a vital role and acts as an effective measure. Most affected individuals recover with time, with the help of effective post-intervention techniques and their individual strengths. In some cases where recovery is incomplete, individuals may develop severe symptoms of PTSD or other mental health disorders which need to be addressed by professional help. The psychosocial education and clinical interventions are expected to provide better outcomes because of the integration of various effective measures. Rehabilitations plans should be made by keeping in mind the cultural context of the community and the needs of the affected population.


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