"Kids on the verge..."
“Panhandle kids on verge of mental-health crisis.” This headline appeared recently on the front page of the Miami Herald in reference to the aftermath of hurricane Michael that hit the Florida panhandle last year. The article reported that “when a thunderstorm passed through the Panhandle this winter, the sound was enough to distress some students just returning to school, reminding them of Hurricane Michael’s rage…”
This did not surprise me, in fact, in the aftermath of natural disasters, it is a common occurrence that emotions are provoked by a reminder event. For example, people who were traumatized by an earthquake may feel panic and distress months later during a tremor. In Miami, a woman who had survived hurricane Andrew and had rebuilt her damaged house, experienced a near emotional breakdown years later during a loud afternoon thunderstorm. The storm “triggered” the traumatic emotions that she had felt during Andrew.
When we conduct Grief Support Workshops in the aftermath of a natural disaster, we frequently hear participant stories of a “panic attack” or “emotional freeze” when a sound or sight triggers the previous trauma. The Miami Herald article described students running to their teachers in tears, fearing the storm might return. Their traumatic emotions had been aroused by a thunderstorm.
This takes us back to the headline, “Panhandle kids on the verge of mental-health crisis.” When a natural disaster occurs, disaster response teams show up with water and food. They conduct rescue operations. They open emergency shelters for those who lost their homes. Psychological First Aid is provided for victims, but in the long aftermath (which can go on for years) emotional support almost always takes a back seat to physical needs.
The school district most affected by hurricane Michael has not received any federal or state funding specifically for mental-health needs related to Michael. (Miami Herald. June 14, 2019 p.4) It can often take months before mental-health issues appear. Meanwhile the school district conducted a survey and found that more than a third of the district’s roughly 30,000 students and staff likely have clinical symptoms of depression, anxiety or PTSD.
As we developed our faith-health model of grief support, we learned to incorporate training that recognizes “emotional triggers” as a normal experience of victims of traumatic loss. Parents, teachers and faith leaders who participated in our grief support training workshops agreed that it may take years to emotionally and spiritually recover from traumatic loss. During that extended period of grief, social and spiritual support can significantly improve the odds for healthy adaptation. That is why Global Grief Support, Inc. is so committed to continuing to train faith-based facilitators of grief support.