How to cope with Hurricane Ian trauma, stress and anxiety

Editor’s Note: This story contains discussions of suicide. If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, there are resources available that can help. Please see the information below.

As Florida residents grapple with the devastation of Hurricane Ian, survivors may experience anxiety, stress and depression.

Some may feel guilty that they lived and others died. Families can struggle to deal with the loss of their home. First responders could also be traumatized.

The Tampa Bay Times asked two experts for advice on how to deal with the psychological toll of the storm.

Here’s what people should know.

What coping strategies can people use?

Common signs that someone is struggling after a disaster include trouble falling or staying asleep, feelings of helplessness or sadness, and frequent crying.

People should acknowledge and express their feelings, even if it might be uncomfortable. Talk to someone or keep a journal, said Elyssa Barbash, a Tampa-based psychologist.

When people suppress their emotions, they can develop post-traumatic stress disorder, she said.

It’s normal and healthy to experience a psychological reaction to the storm, she said, but people should address it sooner rather than later to keep it from becoming a serious mental health issue.

Talking to a professional like a psychologist or therapist can be beneficial, she added.

When someone is overwhelmed, how can they calm down?

Take a deep breath.

“A lot of people think, ‘Oh, it’s so simple it probably won’t work’… but it’s actually very effective,” said Barbash, who owns Tampa Therapy, a group practice. She specializes in treating trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder.

For people in disaster areas, creating a plan for how to care for themselves and loved ones can ease their anxiety, added Clara Reynolds, president and CEO of Tampa Bay Crisis Center, a nonprofit organization.

Related: Where Hurricane Ian survivors can get free psychological help

If someone has a survivor’s guilt, what should they know?

Feelings of guilt can arise when one person survives a catastrophic event but others do not.

People don’t control the weather, Reynolds said, a licensed clinical social worker.

“I might have wished it hadn’t hit here, but that’s all,” she said of Ian. “That (doesn’t) mean I sent it to Fort Myers.”

When people feel guilty, they can volunteer to help Southwest Florida.

What mental illnesses could develop after the storm?

Anxiety disorders, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, Barbash said.

In a peer-reviewed study published earlier this year, researchers surveyed over 1,600 Floridians and found that Hurricanes Irma and Michael were linked to post-traumatic stress.

How can family and friends help survivors?

Call her. Respond to their texts. “Be a good ear,” Barbash said.

If survivors have major depression or are contemplating suicide, connect them to 988, the national suicide prevention hotline, Reynolds said.

Related: They rode out of Ian on shrimp boats. Now they fear that their livelihood will be destroyed

What can government officials do for victims?

Be honest about bad news and communicate with residents often, Reynolds said.

“A lot of fear lives in the space where people don’t know what’s going on,” she said, “and their mind fills in the blanks for them — or social media fills in the blanks.”

Should people limit how many messages they read or watch?

Stay tuned in, but don’t let the coverage eat you up, Barbash said.

“There’s a line, and everyone has to figure out for themselves what that is,” Barbash said. “Some people don’t turn off the TV. The news pours into her house all day long. That might be too much.”

It can be “almost addictive,” Reynolds said.

Related: Hurricane Ian caused about 100 deaths in Florida, including 1 in Hillsborough

What can parents do if their children appear to be affected?

Ask them open-ended questions about the storm, such as: B. “How did that make you feel?”

“They might say, ‘I don’t know,’ or ‘I’m fine,'” Reynolds said. “Then you back off a bit and tell them how it made you feel. be vulnerable … Children may not even realize how they are feeling until they hear you describe how you felt.”

Do you need help?

If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, call or text 988 to reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, or chat with someone online at

The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration also operates a free 24/7 crisis counseling hotline for people involved in disasters, including hurricanes and tropical storms. People can call or text 1-800-985-5990, and Spanish speakers can press 2 for help in that language. Third-party interpreting services are available for more than 100 other languages.

Related: In Naples, Hurricane Ian brings dramatic rescues and staggering casualties

• • •

Coverage of Hurricane Ian by the Tampa Bay Times

HOW YOU CAN HELP: Where you can donate or volunteer to help victims of Hurricane Ian.

FEMA: Floridians injured by Ian can now apply for FEMA assistance. Here’s how.

THE STORM IS ADVANCED: What now? Homecoming safety tips.

AFTER THE STORM QUESTIONS: After Hurricane Ian, how to get help with downed trees, food, and damaged shelter.

WEATHER EFFECTS: Hurricane Ian was supposed to hit Tampa Bay head-on. What happened?

MORE STORM COVERAGE: Brace yourself and stay tuned to

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