People often associate post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with people returning from combat or fleeing from wars. However, PTSD can result from a range of traumatic experiences and affect many different types of people. Traumatic events that can result in PTSD include child neglect, abusive relationships, and car accidents. PTSD can also result from experiencing natural disasters, such as wildfires and floods.
In the article below, we discuss PTSD in the context of natural disasters. We cover the signs and symptoms of PTSD from natural disasters. Also, we detail how people who struggle with PTSD can find the help they need. Our team at Aurora Santa Rosa Hospital is here to help people who have PTSD begin their recovery journeys.
PTSD from natural disasters is common
First responders are particularly vulnerable to developing PTSD from natural disasters. First responders fight on the front lines, and they deal directly with the stresses, injuries, and deaths that natural disasters may cause. Additionally, first responders often risk their own lives when fighting natural disasters. This reality is particularly the case or firefighters who combat wildfires. For example, in 2013, over 30 firefighters from Prescott, Arizona, died battling wildfires. This death count was a 20-year high for area firefighters, and many of their surviving peers developed PTSD.
Natural disasters are occurring more frequently
Natural disasters are on the rise due to climate change. This reality means that first responders will need to confront natural disasters more often than in previous years. Due to more exposure to natural disasters and their consequences, more first responders will likely develop PTSD.
Like other natural disasters, wildfires are also occurring more frequently than in the past. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, wildfires are particularly traumatic because of the uncertainty they produce. Wildfires spread quickly, cause evacuations on short notice, and affect large regions. Wildfires can force first responders and community members to make serious decisions to protect their lives, and this stress can lead to individuals developing PTSD.
How to determine if you have PTSD
If you have recently survived a traumatic event, like the Santa Rosa wildfire, you may be wondering if you have PTSD. PTSD affects everyone differently and can produce a variety of symptoms. Accordingly, it is best to rely on a mental health professional’s assessment to determine if you have PTSD rather than relying on a self-diagnosis. However, several risk factors may increase a person’s chance of developing PTSD. If a person has any of those risk factors, they may want to get a professional assessment. Risk factors for developing PTSD include:
- Suffering physical injuries from a traumatic event.
- Seeing a dead body or other people getting hurt during a traumatic event.
- Previous exposure to trauma, like abuse or neglect, during childhood.
- Feelings of hopelessness or fear.
- Lacking a social support system after a traumatic event.
- A personal history of other mental health conditions or substance abuse.
- Ongoing stressors after a traumatic event.
Ongoing stressors after a traumatic event can take many forms. After a person survives a wildfire, ongoing stressors may include:
- Remaining away from your home for weeks before you can return to assess the damage.
- Lacking materials, time, and money to rebuild your home.
- Staying with family members or in a stressful environment while you look for a new place to live.
- Losing a job or income.
- Relocating children to another school district.
- Physical health complications from the fire.
Understanding common PTSD symptoms
If you have some of the above risk factors, it is important to be familiar with common PTSD symptoms. When people recognize PTSD symptoms with themselves or loved ones, they can prioritize finding support from trained mental health professionals. Common symptoms of PTSD include:
- Reliving the event and associated trauma through flashbacks. This experience can include other physical symptoms, like a racing heart.
- Having bad dreams or fearful thoughts.
- Feeling on edge most of the time.
- Being easily startled.
- Experiencing sleep disturbances or insomnia.
- Exhibiting irritability or having frequent outbursts.
- Losing memories of the traumatic event.
- Blaming yourself for bad things that happened during the event.
- Losing interest in activities that you once enjoyed.
What to do next if you think you have PTSD
Treatment is crucial for a person to recover from PTSD. Untreated PTSD can lead to various other mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, and substance abuse disorder. It is important to note that there is not just one way to treat PTSD, and each person requires an individualized treatment approach. However, some practices are common for PTSD treatment recommendations, including:
- Focusing on keeping up with your daily routine.
- Turning off the T.V. and not watching news coverage.
- Reaching out to people that you trust for support.
- Considering signing up for volunteer efforts.
- Finding a local support group, such as Missing Elements in Santa Rosa.
- Contacting a mental health facility for inpatient or outpatient treatment options.
Aurora Santa Rosa Hospital can help people who suffer from PTSD
Aurora Santa Rosa Hospital can help individuals who suffer from PTSD resulting from natural disasters. We offer several treatment programs for adults and adolescents who suffer from PTSD, substance abuse, and other mental health conditions.
Our treatment programs offer a multidisciplinary approach that gives patients the tools they need to overcome PTSD, anxiety, depression, and other symptoms. We offer inpatient care, partial hospitalization programs, and intensive outpatient treatment options to meet each patient’s needs.