Resilience and Individual Actions Before and After a Disaster
Most people will do well after a potentially traumatic event, such as a natural disaster; some may emerge even stronger. However, some people may have difficulties.
Some people feel a sense of security and control by taking individual action to understand, adapt to or mitigate the effects of climate change. On an individual level, we can learn more about what is happening and could happen in the future, prepare for climate-related events (where appropriate and possible), and work toward preventing further impacts. Taking action to prepare for the effects of climate change can help “manage the emotional responses as people come to terms with — and adjust their understanding and lives in the context of — climate change.”3.
There are helpful things you can do to prepare for and respond to emergency and disaster events. Individual actions might include: making and practicing household emergency plans; caring for yourself through healthy habits; building connections with family, friends, neighbors, and others to create strong social networks; and participating in policy and advocacy efforts to combat climate change.4
Before a Disaster Event
Many people feel stress about things they do not understand or feel unprepared to manage. Being prepared can help reduce stress and increase feelings of well-being for individuals and communities. You can feel more prepared by:
- Understanding the extreme and slow-moving weather events that are most common in your area and how best to prepare for these.
- Having a family emergency plan, including where everyone will meet in the event of interruptions to communication services.
- Having an emergency “go” kit in your home to help manage basic needs, including medications.
- Learning the emergency plans for your place of work, your children’s school, and your neighborhood.
- Buying a backup generator.
- Encouraging your community to talk about disaster planning and share resources and skills among neighbors.
- Obtaining reliable sources of news and information.
If you or family members take psychiatric medications, talk with your doctor about using the medication during extreme heat. It is not recommended to stop medications without talking to your doctor.
After a Disaster Event
Following a disaster event, it can be helpful to know what to do and how to respond in order to best care for yourself and your loved ones and to support your community.
- Sleep when you are tired. Eat when you are hungry. Hydrate with clean drinking water every hour. Encourage others to do the same.
- Avoid increasing alcohol or tobacco use; these will ultimately increase stress and can increase your health risks.
- Talk with friends, family or colleagues who have gone through the same experience; sharing can be helpful for people to double check negative and potentially harmful perceptions of how things occurred, as well as learn how others are coping.
- Listen to people’s concerns. Avoid telling people how they should feel or making comments that could be experienced as dismissive, such as “everything happens for a reason.”
Helping Children and Adolescents
Kids have unique needs after crisis and emergency situations or when coping with worry about major issues, such as climate change. Children and adolescents may respond in different ways than adults. Understanding common reactions allows you to better help kids before, during and after crisis events.
- Talk openly with them about their fears of danger, before, during or after an event.
- Don’t minimize the danger, but talk about your ability to cope with tragedy and get through the ordeal.
- Remind children there are people that are working hard to keep them safe.
- Anticipate a variety of reactions to fear, including: anger, misbehavior, withdrawal, regression in toileting behavior and other life routines. Avoid punishing children for these common reactions as this may make the behaviors worse.
Taking Action to Address Climate Change
For some people, taking steps to reduce the progression of climate change will reduce stress and enhance well-being. Here are a few suggestions: 8, 9, 10
- Drive less – take public transportation, ride a bike, walk
- Change your light bulbs – LED light bulbs are much more efficient
- Buy less stuff, reuse, repurpose, recycle
- Increase home energy efficiency – plug air leaks in windows and doors, use a programable thermostat
- Replace old appliances with energy efficient ones
- Plant trees
It may be helpful to see your primary care or mental health provider if you are experiencing any of the following:
- You are having increasing problems at home or work.
- You are using more alcohol.
- Your symptoms don’t get better after a few days (or are getting worse).
- You just don’t feel right.
- A loved one or colleague comments that you don’t seem like yourself.
Joshua C. Morganstein, M.D.
- APA Resource Document: Mental Health and Climate Change, 2017.
- Lancet Commission on Health and Climate. Health and climate change: policy responses to protect public health. The Lancet. Published online June 2015.
- U.S. Global Change Research Program. 2016. The impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States: A Scientific Assessment.
- Clayton, S. et al. 2017. Mental Health and Our Changing Climate: Impacts, Implications, and Guidance. American Psychological Association and ecoAmerica.
- American Psychiatric Association, APA Public Opinion Poll – Annual Meeting 2019.