How to take care of your mental health after a disaster

The toll that a situation like surviving a close to Category 5 hurricane can take on mental health can have a massive impact on individuals and the community at large.

While on location in downtown Fort Myers the morning after Hurricane Ian hit Southwest Florida, WGCU reporter/producer Tara Calligan met Reese VanCamp, director of advanced providers at Elite DNA Behavioral Health in Fort Myers.

VanCamp took time out after clearing the debris left by Hurricane Ian to speak about the importance of mental health during a disaster.

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Calligan: When a storm like this goes through a catastrophic event, it’s extremely taxing on mental health. What advice would you give to people who are really going through this right now?

VanCamp: I think a good point is to make some sort of assessment of what’s going on around you. I think the best thing to do with anxiety is to know your surroundings to put together a plan first.

So just take it one at a time, make a plan with family or friends, and then move forward bit by bit instead of looking at one overwhelming picture.

Calligan: For someone who may be going through this for the very first time, any type of disaster, this is one of the hardest hit storms Southwest Florida has ever experienced. How can they begin when they really are in this overwhelming state?

VanCamp: I think talking to each other, talking to people in your neighborhood or your apartment building, talking to friends, there’s the suicide hotline. If you’re really scared, you can always call 988 and talk to someone. There are many psychiatric hotlines that are free.

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Um, you know, local colleges, if you’re on a college campus, they have all the centers you can go to and someone you can talk to. So, there’s usually a lot of debriefing going on.

There are many ways to talk to someone and I think that’s the most important thing.

Calligan: What about maybe even giving, you know, giving yourself a break, giving yourself that space to feel that?

VanCamp: I think that’s really important just because it’s how we get into this mode when we just have things to do. But really, if you take some time and decompress, you’ll do it more effectively.

So if you’re just taking the time to except how you’re feeling and you know it’s okay, and then everyone else around you is probably feeling the same way, maybe give them a space to express the same feelings be able.

Calligan: Is fear and the feeling that you would come in such a situation different from something someone may have felt before?

VanCamp: Anxiety often comes from being in a situation you don’t want to be in. Mostly panic because your body is trying to get you out of this situation. People panicking or feeling like their bodies are overreacting would be very, very normal.

Your body is just trying to protect it, so the best scenario would be to take that, accept those feelings, and just let that type of movement go through.

Calligan: Is there anything else that you think would be important for the audience, for the people in the area who are really struggling at the moment?

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VanCamp: Here, too, I think it’s good to talk to family and friends. That’s part of the reason we have friends, and part of the reason we have family, is that communication to help us when we need it.

So don’t be afraid to reach out to us, because that’s what we’re here for. I know I’ve walked around our neighborhood and everyone has offered to help each other. You just have to address it and accept it.

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