When a big earthquake strikes, the public’s attention immediately goes to the physically injured, the dead, or to collapsed buildings. But something else also starts: the toll on mental health.
Traumatic stress rises in the aftermath of a disaster, researchers say. One study examining survivors of 10 disasters found that one-third of them suffered a post-disaster diagnosis — with post-traumatic stress disorder being the most prevalent (20%), followed by major depression (16%) and alcohol use disorder (9%).
Worsening mental health has been documented in a number of recent disasters, including the aftermath of the magnitude 6.7 Northridge earthquake in 1994 and the magnitude 6.2 earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2011.
Deteriorating mental health can sometimes be obscured by the phases of a disaster. Immediately after a disaster, researchers have documented that there can be a community emotional high as people enter into a heroic rescue mode, followed by a honeymoon period where a community bonds and there is unrealistic hope that everything can return to normal quickly. But then there can be a long phase downward, and it can be accompanied by stress, exhaustion and fatigue.
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