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Hurricane Harvey & Its Effect on Mental Health

When it brought torrential downpours, Hurricane Harvey relentlessly flooded Texas neighborhoods with its flood waters. Houses were destroyed, businesses ruined, and lives were lost. However, as communities slowly begin to rebuild, Harvey’s damage extends beyond the physical scars left behind—there’s an unseen change in the minds of some who experienced trauma from Harvey. Though it is too soon to know the specifics regarding the mental health of residents have been affected by Harvey, it is possible to examine some of the earliest signs of an internal struggle.

In November 2017, just 3 months after Harvey, the Houston Chronicle reported on an abnormal mental state that many Texans were experiencing. The newspaper reported that Houstonians were experiencing dissociation—flood victims reported losing track of time, forgetting important dates, and acting strangely towards friends and family. One expert attributed this to a condition known as Acute Stress Disorder. Common after stressful situations, ASD can last for weeks and causes time distortion, emotional distress, and physical unrest. Those who experience this form of mental struggle require step-by-step care in order to prevent it from advancing to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

By January of 2018, data emerged suggesting that there were lingering mental health problems caused by Hurricane Harvey. Newsweek reported a strange spike in murders in Houston in the months following the storm. Before Harvey, the murder rate was decreasing by 11 percent in Houston. However, the homicide rate jumped 15 percent in the months following Harvey. Experts expressed concerned that this jump was caused by PTSD. The spike was noticeable enough for Mayor Sylvester Turner to order an investigation.

The Effect of Disaster on a Community

Mental health decline after a major natural disaster is not uncommon. After Hurricane Katrina, one study found that over 20 percent of residents showed signs of PTSD, 33 percent suffered from depression, and 46 percent had anxiety. Those who suffer in a storm often relive the experience as they pick up the pieces of their life.

Further evidence for Harvey’s grip on the mental health of Harris County residents appeared in June of 2018 as reports of approaching rainstorms triggered PTSD and anxiety in the community. A study done by the University of Texas estimated that about 18 percent, or 800,000, of Harris County residents were struggling with psychological distress after Hurricane Harvey. The rain revealed the manifestation of what doctors described as an unprecedented amount of anxiety and psychological distress in the community.

A recent study, published on May 13, 2018, revealed the immediate mental health needs of those who experienced Harvey. The study found that 46 percent of those interviewed showed probable signs of PTSD symptoms. While it is still too soon to know the exact number regarding mental health and Hurricane Harvey, this recent study reveals that those who live in Houston and surrounding areas still require assistance in the after of Hurricane Harvey. As recovery continues, we can only remain vigilant as a community and work together to heal our collective mental health.