PTSD and the Psychological Effects of Hurricane Katrina

Natural Disasters and PTSD

Street After Hurricane Katrina
ParkerDeen / Getty Images

Near the end of August 2005, Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast, and this event has led many to examine whether there is a relationship between PTSD and Hurricane Katrina. All across the United States, people watched as the citizens of the Gulf Coast attempted to cope with this natural disaster. Hurricane Katrina caused a tremendous amount of physical damage. Entire communities were destroyed. However, we are just beginning to truly understand the psychological impact of this hurricane.

The Impact of Hurricane Katrina on Mental Health

Researchers at the University of New Orleans, the University of Southern Mississippi, Stanford University, and Arizona State University surveyed 386 people who lived in areas that were affected by Hurricane Katrina. They asked them a number of questions about how the hurricane affected them. What they found is alarming.

Many people impacted by Hurricane Katrina experienced stressful and traumatic events during and as a result of the hurricane.

In fact, people said they experienced, on average, about 2 traumatic events during the course of the storm. Many also said that they had the following experiences:

  • Being separated from their children, friends, neighbors, and relatives
  • Having their home damaged or destroyed
  • Seeing others who were hurt, sick, or had died
  • Getting hurt or sick
  • Seeing crime or violence

In addition, over 50% of people surveyed also reported that they had the following symptoms of PTSD and general distress:

  • Upsetting memories and thoughts about the hurricane
  • Feeling upset after being reminded of the hurricane
  • Trying to avoid thoughts, feelings, and conversations about the event
  • Increased irritability and anger
  • Worries that the event could happen again
  • Feeling on edge and tense

Finally, they found that residents of Mississippi who were affected by the hurricane had a greater number of PTSD symptoms as compared to people in New Orleans; however, people in Mississippi also were found to have more social support than people in New Orleans.

Getting Help

It is clear that Hurricane Katrina had a major social and psychological impact on people in the Gulf Coast region of the United States. If you have been affected by Hurricane Katrina or any other natural disaster, there is help available. The National Center for PTSD provides a number of fact sheets on the effects of natural disasters and how to cope with them. They also provide links for people interested in sending help or for those who need help, such as finding loved ones or receiving support.

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