By Courtney Reyers, NAMI Director of Publishing
Studies from a prior earthquake in Taiwan suggest that individuals living with serious mental illness are at risk for getting sicker after disasters.1 Here, in the U.S., Superstorm Sandy displaced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes—with more than 70,000 homes and businesses being destroyed in New Jersey alone. The storm also claimed 47 lives in New York, 24 in New Jersey and in the end was responsible for more than 100 deaths in the U.S. The stress and horror of a natural disaster of such magnitude not only makes receiving mental health care difficult or impossible, it can also serve as a catalyst for episode onset or cause major stress, anxiety, depression and posttraumatic stress disorder.
A report by the National Council on Disability identified several problems that made our country’s last disaster, Hurricane Katrina, especially difficult for individuals with serious mental illness.2 In the response to Katrina, there was not enough planning for how to accommodate people living with serious mental illness in shelters and evacuation plans did not take this group into consideration. As a result some individuals living with serious mental illness were left behind when the storm came and some who evacuated were turned away from shelters. A recent study from Los Angeles confirmed that individuals living with serious mental illness are still less prepared for disasters than the general population.3
To make sure you’re always prepared, here are some tips from Dr. Anand Pandya, M.D., psychiatrist at Cedars-Sinai Department of Psychiatry and co-founder of Disaster Psychiatry Outreach:
In Sandy’s wake, a benefit concert will be held on Dec. 12, streaming free and live on TV and on the web. Visit the 12/12/12 Concert website for more information.
1 Tseng K-C, Hemenway D, Kawachi I, et al: The impact of the Chi-Chi earthquake on the incidence of hospitalizations for schizophrenia and on concomitant hospital
choice. Community Mental Health Journal Volume 46: pages 93–101, 2010
2 National Council on Disability: The Needs of People with Psychiatric Disabilities
During and After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita: Position Paper and Recommendations.
Washington, DC, National Council on Disability, 2006
3 Eisenman DP, Zhou Q, Ong M, et al: Variations in disaster preparedness by mental
health, perceived general health, and disability status. Disaster Medicine and Public
Health Preparedness Volume 3:pages 33–41, 2009