Hurricane Katrina and other devastating traumatic events have taught experts that getting back to life as usual can be powerful medicine for populations whose lives have been ripped apart.
Hurricane Katrina was a seminal for more than just the residents of New Orleans. The community of emergency mental health providers was forever changed in the hurricane’s wake as well.
Dr. Sandro Galea, an epidemiologist who serves as the Dean of the Boston University School of Public Health, thinks Katrina made us better in the wake of disasters.
“I think as a result of Katrina, our systems of response are stronger,” Galea says. “I think it pushed us to consider ways of outreach that we had not thought of before, and pushed us to think about reaching hard-to-get-to populations and making sure that after a large-scale event all populations who may need help can get help.”
In the immediate aftermath of a disaster the most important service for traumatized populations to return to normal life, says Galea. The long-term goal, he surmizes, is to prevent those traumatized by an event from allowing it to affect the rest of their lives. According to his research, some 40 percent of those injured in a disaster end up with some form of long-term mental illness.
“The treatment for people who continue to have mental health consequences of these events is complex,” says Galea. “So we’ve learned that certainly prevention of mental illness after large-scale traumatic events is probably the more effective way to go, which is why I circle back to helping people return to normal life—supporting them material, supporting them psychologically—so that they can resume their normal functioning.”