Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is most often associated with veterans and those who have been in combat. This serious mental health disorder can also be found in victims of natural disasters. When Camp Fire burned through California in 2018, killing 86 people and destroying 13,972 homes, it left in its wake many homeless evacuees suffering from mental trauma and illness.
Irva Hertz-Picciotto, from UC Davis, has studied wildfires and their mental health effects. She notes that people who were in a life-threatening situation were more likely to suffer from mental health symptoms. These symptoms often have long-term effects, such as PTSD.
What does PTSD look like in wildfire survivors?
Although this disorder plays out differently in each individual, many wildfire survivors replay scenarios in their mind of the scary things that could have happened, even if they didn't actually happen. One man felt a lot of resentment for not rescuing more of his things. He never really thought the fire would burn his house and possessions down to pile of char. One woman felt very calm when she evacuated, making sure to get her three dogs into the car, but afterward she felt a lot of shock.
PTSD does not always go away quickly. Symptoms can take up to a year to disappear when treated through therapy. If they are not treated through therapy, they could go on for years. Traumatic memories pop up when triggered by a certain sound or smell.
Who is helping the victims?
In a Red Cross evacuation center in Gridley, CA, Red Cross mental health counselors are talking to people all the time. They see how resilient the people are and if they are able to cope with their situation. The Red Cross can only help for a certain amount of time, though, and PTSD victims need longer-lasting help.
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