It’s a few weeks after the showers stopped, and things are still messed up. A little rumbler of a rain storm is enough to jolt you out of bed at 3 a.m. — send you out into the yard to check the street and put you on the couch holding the dog. Fears and anxieties race through your mind. How much water this time? Will the reservoirs hold? Will I have to go back to the shelter?
Lightning strikes illuminate the water damage, highlighting faded smiles in distorted, kaleidoscoped photographs, making the relief you feel when the thunder dissipates cold comfort. By four-in-the-morning the realization that there is no normal to get back to has yoked you into a full-blown depressive incident.
At this point, it’s almost cliché to say that many of the effects of a natural disaster are long-term. However, thanks to increased sensitivity in diagnostic testing, the scope of the psychological damage wrought by a storm like Harvey is only now beginning to be understood.
A 2012 study showed that, six years after landfall, 30 to 50 percent of all Hurricane Katrina survivors were suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Also, Hyun Kim pointed out in Fortune that over 20 percent of New York-area residents reported experiencing PTSD symptoms in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
As startling as those numbers are, they pale in comparison to the problems faced by children. A 2010 study of 195 New Orleans school children affected by Katrina found that roughly 60 percent of those interviewed exhibited one or more symptoms of PTSD.
A traumatic event like Harvey also leaves its fingerprints on the men and women trying to help. A study by the CDC found that roughly as many 50 percent of New Orleans’ first responders showed symptoms of PTSD in the wake of Katrina.
The impact of a hurricane on mental health isn’t just measured in increased cases of PTSD — reported cases of depression in the New York-area shot up one-third after Sandy, and feelings of food insecurity increased by 25 percent amongst Katrina survivors.
Unfortunately, the people severely impacted by Harvey live in Texas — a state that ranks 42nd in the nation in per capita mental health care spending. Texas’ State Mental Health Agency spending is so low, about $40 per person per year in Fiscal Year 2013, that the Lone Star State is considered “a non-providing state” by mental health professionals.
Although the State of Texas increased mental health funding by about $200 million after the 2015 legislative session, the new funds weren’t nearly enough to keep up with a population growth of about 1,200 people per day. The lack of state mental health care funding had already created a crisis — Hurricane Harvey just made it worse.
As is often the case in Texas, those in need will probably have to count on the kindness of strangers for assistance instead of turning to the state for help. Mental Health America of Greater Houston has a fairly comprehensive guide to lower cost mental health resources, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also has a searchable map of community clinics and health care providers. Additionally, Kaiser Permanente has donated $1 million to help cover the cost of providing mental health care to Harvey survivors.