Mental Health Effects of Hurricanes

Hurricanes can affect our health for months even years after the storm - often in surprising ways. Research shows extreme storms can have long-term effects on not only our physical health but our mental health as well.

“When we're talking about the health effects that come after a hurricane, we have to recognize there are some that are typical, physical that you can see. Injuries and so forth,” explains Millennium Physician Group Chief Medical Officer Alejandro Perez-Trepichio. “But there are others not less important. I will argue more important. They are on the behavioral science side of things.”

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, before, during, and after a storm, it’s normal for hurricanes to cause depression-like symptoms including:

  • overwhelming anxiety
  • constant worrying
  • trouble sleeping

“And these will not appear necessarily until days to months to years after the storm,” explains Dr. Perez-Trepichio.

A recent study of Florida residents found repeated direct impact, indirect impact, and media exposure to hurricanes were associated with posttraumatic stress symptoms, generalized worries, global distress, and functional impairment. Another study suggests strong storms can lead to mental disorders among previously healthy people. It’s important to note, untreated mental health issues can have a negative impact on our physical health.

“When we do not treat these conditions that are not on the surface, they're not visible, they do affect internally, and may actually prolong or worsen our chronic conditions,” says Dr. Perez-Trepichio.

Dr. Perez-Trepichio goes on to say there’s no right or wrong way to feel, but you have to find healthy ways to cope.

“One of the most important aspects of taking care of this kind of below-the-surface issues is not to ignore them,” advises Dr. Perez-trepichio. “Anxiety and depression are real conditions. There is nothing to be ashamed of. It's something that we can treat and we can very effectively manage.”