Protecting Your Mental Health During Disaster

By Indigo Blue


In the aftermath of the tragedy of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, expert after expert dispenses information to help Americans cope. These experts raise concerns about those who are most vulnerable. Repeatedly, concerns for the mentally ill are raised. Individuals who suffer from depression were most often cited.

There are several risks that this kind of disaster brings to those who are mentally ill.

Depression increases for many of us. Those already clinically depressed can sink to dangerous lows. The disaster may also trigger other mental health issues. From post- traumatic stress disorder to full-blown manic episodes, rage, ADD symptoms, suicidal thoughts, painful and futile thinking, binges, self-mutilation, and acting out on addictions, this level of stress can completely unbalance us. Some will revisit past traumas. Even those of us who are on medication to stabilize us can become unbalanced.

It is important to take care of yourself under such duress. Here are some simple things to do to protect your mental health while dealing with disaster.

Express your feelings. Talk to trusted friends and family members. Journaling and creative outlets, such as artwork, or poetry can offer a great deal of relief. Posting on message boards can also be cathartic.

Understand your grief may have many faces: anger, depression, hopelessness, blame, bargaining. These feelings do not necessarily appear, leave, and never return. The grieving process may cycle again and again. Acknowledge this, and donít rush your grief.

Limit viewing the news if it is too upsetting. You can ask a support person to inform you if there is something you must know.

Donít put pressure on yourself to "get over it". Healing is often a slow process.

Have support and accountability. Support people in your life are a safe haven, their role is clear in your health, but accountability people are vital, they help you to gauge your health. When we are ill, we are our judgment is impaired. Accountability also helps us to be responsible about caring for ourselves. It is like making contracts with others. It forces us to consider more than our own feelings. It commits us to get "out of ourselves".

Be proactive. Talk to your doctor and therapist immediately. Get involved in a support group. Donít wait until you are suicidal before you seek help.

If needed, get your medication adjusted. Start medication if you havenít already. The weeks ahead may be difficult. Medications take time to become effective.

Take care of your body. Avoid the mood altering substances that affect our feelings. This includes sweets and caffeine. Drink plenty of water. Exercise. If you can, pamper your body with extras like massage or a manicure.

Finally, feed your spirit. Pray, and serve others. Get involved with your community. Gather in spiritual places and read affirming, comforting, or holy books.

From the ashes, as America slowly recovers from this catastrophe, we see shining examples of courage, compassion, spirituality and service. We see hope. Let hope guide you through this and any trauma. Be your own hero and take good care of yourself.



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