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People often think that PTSD happens only when something life-threatening or incredibly scary happens directly to you. PTSD is much more common than that. Those who left home for Hurricanes Harvey and Irma who came home to destroyed homes or to find loved ones homes destroyed may develop PTSD. First responders often develop PTSD from their daily work. Anyone who witnesses the suffering of others can develop PTSD.

In light of the two (now three really) recent hurricanes, Irma and Harvey, (and Maria) causing so much destruction, this blog is about understanding symptoms and normalizing fears and reactions. Even if you came out fine with no damage to you, your property, or friend’s lives or properties, these hurricanes we’re so devistating that many people will develop PTSD.

Technically, PTSD cannot be diagnosed until six months after the incident. Prior to that, your symptoms may meet the criteria for acute stress disorder. Symptoms like poor sleep, restlessness, anxiety, irritability, separation anxiety in kids, behavioral changes in kids, depression, nightmares, flashbacks (remembering the event as if it were happening now with sensory detail), and more are common as the brain tries to make sense of and put to rest what just happened. If these symptoms persist for six or more months (or develop for the first time six or more months after the event), it may be PTSD.

These symptoms do not mean anything is wrong with you. The brain is trying to make sense of the event. Depending on several factors such as, but not limited to, prior experiences both personally and learned about, reactions of others around you, personality factors, support you have before, during and after the event, and whether you were able to maintain a calm inner body and mind during the event, the chances of developing PTSD are higher or lower.

EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) is a specialized non-invasive therapy technique used to decrease the intensity of emotions, sensory details still felt after the event, and the overall impact of the event this helping the brain do what it can’t on its own to heal. EMDR works even years after a potentially traumatic event, but the sooner you get help the better to prevent ongoing distress.

The EMDR Humanitarian Assistance Program (EMDR-HAP) has trauma recovery networks throughout the country who mobilize in times of mass disaster (natural disasters, mass shootings, terrorist attacks, etc). Each TRN has therapists nearby who are trained in EMDR and will help those in need, often providing a few free sessions to those impacted by the event.

There is no shame in asking for help. Research shows that in the face of tragedy, support is a key aspect in successfully navigating the emotional aftermath. Spirituality is also shown to have very positive results in decreasing the potential for PTSD. If you need help locating an EMDR therapist,EMDRIA has a list of trained therapists. You can also call or email me. I will help you locate someone.

Wishing you safety and support!