Special Considerations

Disaster Psychology

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Disaster Psychology 1239

When disaster strikes, physical assistance may be only part of what survivors need. "Psychological First Aid" for disaster induced stress and trauma may also be required. Severe cases will require the assistance of a mental health professional. For many, however, the best medicine you can provide may be a sympathetic ear.

TIP: Disaster-induced stress is a normal reaction to an abnormal situation.

Disaster survivors normally experience a range of psychological and physiological reactions. Survivors' reactions may become more intense as the amount of disruption to their lives increases. The severity and type of reaction varies with each person and depends upon several factors:

  • Prior experience with the same or a similar event
  • The intensity of the disruption
  • The emotional aptitude of the individual
  • Individuals feeling that there is no escape, which sets the stage for panic
  • The length of time that has elapsed since the event occurred

Preempt some of the symptoms by taking care of yourself:

  • Try to rest a bit more
  • Eat well-balanced and regular meals and drink plenty of water (even when you don't feel like it)
  • Try to keep a reasonable level of activity; physical activity is often helpful
  • Re-establish a normal schedule as soon as possible; fight against boredom
  • If you are alone, have someone stay with you for at least a few hours a day
  • Recurring thoughts, dreams or flashbacks are normal; don't try to fight them as they will decrease over time

Psychological symptoms may include:

  • Irritability or anger
  • Self-blame or blaming others
  • Isolation or withdrawal
  • Fear of recurrence
  • Feeling helpless
  • Sadness, depression or grief
  • Mood swings

Physiological symptoms may include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Headaches, chest pain
  • Diarrhea, stomach pain, nausea
  • Increase in alcohol or drug use
  • Feeling stunned, numb or overwhelmed
  • Hyperactivity
  • Nightmares
  • Inability to sleep
  • Fatigue, low energy


  • The intensity, timing and duration of postevent psychological and physiological symptoms will vary from person to person. They may be acute or mild and may be immediate or delayed.
  • Psychological reactions to disaster include behavioral changes and regression in children including fear and anxiety about recurrences, sleep disturbances and school avoidance leading to development of school phobias. Re-establishing routine is essential for both children and adults.
  • During most disasters, mental health w kers are ailable to or av help survivors, response workers and others affected by the disaster. If you, a family member or friend is in need of assistance, help may be available from the American Red Cross, Josephine County Public Health, Options for Southern Oregon or the Jackson County Mental Health.