Control what you can: Your response. The threat of a looming natural disaster, such as a hurricane, can cause anxiety and exacerbate symptoms in those who may already face mental health concerns, said Lane Johnson, a licensed professional counselor and chief of clinical services at the Gulf Bend Center in Victoria. The center is one of the local mental health and behavioral health authorities contracted by the Texas government to help deliver and coordinate mental health care.
“If you’ve got some mental health concerns, you’re already under stress. And, oftentimes, it’s difficult to feel safe,” he said. “If a natural disaster is coming, that just raises the anxiety all the more. We all get frantic and anxious.”
For people with mental health concerns, it’s important to monitor and address day-to-day symptoms, Johnson said. They should also focus on preparing for the natural disaster, like everyone else.
“That’s important not only because technical preparation is important, but being prepared and anticipating (a storm) gives you a sense of control,” said Wayne Young, CEO of the Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD in Houston.
That means stocking up on nonperishable food, water, first-aid supplies, gear such as flashlights, cash in case of power outages and charging up your phone. If you have prescriptions, you should also get them refilled in case of long-term disruptions.
You may need proof of your identification, residency, medical needs or immigration status in the aftermath of a disaster, so gather and make copies of those documents ahead of time.
You can find a disaster kit checklist from the federal government here and find more guides on preparing for disasters below:
You should also save phone numbers for people and agencies you can look to for help during or after a disaster, Johnson said. Common disaster resources include:
- Call 911 for life-threatening emergencies.
- Text SHELTER and your ZIP code to 43362 to find shelters with help from FEMA. (This may refer you to check with local officials or online.)
- Call or text 800-985-5990 for crisis counseling from SAMHSA’s Disaster Distress Helpline.
- Call 800-733-2767 to get help from the American Red Cross, including housing and shelter, financial assistance, health services and mental health assistance.
- Call 211 or 877-541-7905 for information on Texas disaster and social services, including local mental health care resources.
- Call 800-504-7030 if you are low-income and need legal assistance related to natural disasters and documents to get help from the State Bar of Texas.
Seek out a support network. Getting a trusted person to walk you through the steps you need to take to prepare can help ease stress. At the Gulf Bend Center, staffers help their patients go through a checklist of hurricane precautions, Johnson said.
“Look for support systems, be it neighbors or family,” Johnson said. “Don’t try to go it alone.”
Connecting with people who understand you is key, Young said. For example, some people reach out to their faith community.
Take care of your mental health even before disaster strikes. Understanding your mental health, symptoms and effective coping skills before a disaster takes place will help you better self-manage symptoms during moments of stress, Young said.
If you have advance notice before a disaster, such as a hurricane or a storm, it can also help to set aside time to relax or exercise, Young said.