Hurricane Harvey’s Impact on the Mental Health of Children, Youth and Adults

Hurricanes and other natural disasters can have long-term and harmful effects on the mental health of children, youth, and adults. So says a recent report from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to school leaders dealing with effects of Hurricane Harvey eight months after the storm.

Based on the latest research on the effects of disasters on mental health, TEA estimated that schools will observe higher rates of mental health challenges resulting from exposure to the traumatic effects associated with the storm, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PSTD is a condition that can develop by experiencing or witnessing a terrifying event; including a natural disaster. That impact may happen immediately or may manifest after some time, the report noted,  and experiencing a traumatic event, such as a natural disaster, can impact mental health, learning and school performance for students.

TEA also reported that trauma can lead to behavior changes, lower GPAs, increased suspensions and expulsions, increased number of students dropping out of school, higher rates of absences, interference with concentration and memory, and decreased reading ability. Although extremely rare, some individuals may be at increased risk of suicide if they suffer from severe PSTD or depression.

Common emotional and behavioral reactions reported among children and youth include:

> Feelings of insecurity, unfairness, anxiety, fear, anger, sadness, despair, or worries about the future
> A sense of helplessness, fear that another hurricane will strike
> Believing myths or folklore to explain the cause of the hurricane
> Disruptive behaviors, irritability, agitation, hyperactivity, avoiding activities or situations
> Increased discipline infractions among displaced students
> Regressive behaviors in young children such as; clinging/dependent behaviors or temper tantrums
> Physical symptoms, such as stomachaches, headaches, loss of appetite, sleep problems and nightmares
> Increased concerns regarding the safety of pets, family members, friends, or loved ones
> School-based problems with diminished concentration, decreased motivation and academic performance.

Read the full TEA report here.

The Council on Recovery is now offering its counseling and treatment services for children, adolescents, and adults at no charge for those affected by Hurricane Harvey, thanks to a generous grant from the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund. Contact The Council for more information.