Facing Loss in Financial or Natural Disasters

Experts say how you lose can change the mental burden on individuals.

ByLauren Cox<br>abc News Medical Unit
September 17, 2008, 11:17 AM

Sept. 17, 2008&#151; -- Two disasters this week have caused tens of thousands of Americans to lose -- and lose big. In the wake of Hurricane Ike, thousands of Gulf Coast residents lost their homes, and all their possessions, while countless others can't even go home yet to see what they lost, if anything.

And all around the country, especially in New York City, tens of thousands of employees who got caught up in the recent banking sector meltdown have lost their jobs, or at least their job security, and many more saw their retirement nest eggs evaporate.

While people in both disasters may lose the same things -- money, property and even homes -- experts say a manmade financial disaster creates a very different psychological burden than a natural disaster.

Those whose lives were battered by a natural disaster often suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. However, for many, the aftermath of a fiscal disaster may be more complicated, experts say.

With a financial failure, victims often feel they are to blame. They frequently are haunted by guilt for the repercussions that will befall their families. And while victims of a natural disaster can often count on their community and aid organizations to help out, not to mention insurance, victims of a economic disaster may have fewer options and feel more isolated and abandoned.

Professor Anie Kalayjian, of Fordham University in New York, specializes in coping during natural disasters. A psychologist whose practice is near Wall Street, she says several employees of Lehman Brothers, the now-bankrupt brokerage company, have made appointments to see her this week.

"The similarities are the initial phase of the shock, the disbelief and the numbing," said Kalayjian about the different kinds of disasters.

"They are emotionally numb because it's impossible to comprehend it all, to lose everything that you have worked for 30 years," said Kalayjian, who is president of the Association for Trauma Outreach and Prevention.

Among the natural disasters Kalayjian has studied, guilt over lost property rarely surfaces. Yet her clients from Lehman Brothers showed a lot of guilt.

"A lot of the people I counseled or work with, they were also trying to say perhaps it was their fault to have all their eggs in their basket and were not diversifying," Kalayjian said about people whose savings were wiped out.

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