As Water Recedes, There Will Likely Be Second Wave of Suffering

Considering that some 70,000 of the 1 million evacuees probably have bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or another disorder that requires medication, the hurricane has had drastic effects, Trestman said. Most evacuees found themselves stranded on rooftops with no time to grab their wallets, let alone their pill boxes.

Abruptly stopping use of these psychiatric drugs can have profound consequences.

"When you stop taking [psychiatric] medication, you change the brain's regulatory mechanism," Trestman said.

What Can You Do?

Beresin stressed the importance of screening everyone affected and paying attention not only to the people who vocalize their distress, but also those who don't. "Unfortunately, the ones who get immediate attention often are the ones who scream, while many others suffer in silence," he said.

Symptoms vary according to age, but counselors are looking for irritability, insomnia, withdrawal, aggression or regressive behavior. Another common fallback may be drugs and alcohol, which are more socially acceptable ways to cope but can often lead to dependency.

Beresin advised that parents take care of themselves first to avoid having kids suffer from a distressed caretaker who hasn't sufficiently recovered. Like in an airplane when the pressure drops, the parent should slip on the oxygen mask before they put one on their child, he said.

Kids of all ages need security, stability and a sense of safety so having a parent helping to process the events will greatly decrease psychological aftereffects, he said.

Safety in the Community

Aside from parent stability, establishing a sense of community can be a good preventive measure. Evacuees should seek to build a support network of school teachers, police, clergy and other victims to help them keep tabs on each other and reassure each other.

Beresin points out that people far away from the eye of the storm may have also suffered distress from the hurricane. Watching media reports or even overhearing parents' graphic descriptions of the devastation can have a profound impact on kids, he said.

He says parents should spend time with their kids and let them express their worries. Children can also get a sense of purpose by taking part in the relief efforts, such as starting a lemonade stand to raise money.

Most important, say experts, is to seek professional help immediately, because over time, mental health problems can get worse.

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