Here's why repeat hurricane survivors may suffer serious PTSD, depression, and more

And climate change is making the situation even worse.
Mert Erdemir
Pabuk typhoon, ocean sea shore in Thailand.DogoraSun/iStock

Over 100 hurricanes have hit the Florida coasts during the last century, and the number and intensity of these hurricanes are unlikely to increase due to climate change. They are destructive, both to nature and human habitats. But have you ever thought about their impacts on individuals' psychology?

A novel study led by researchers from the University of California, Irvine, demonstrates that constant exposure to hurricanes is associated with adverse psychological symptoms. Considering the fact that the threat of climate change is growing day by day, the findings of the study are vital to understanding the psychological effects of repeating natural catastrophes.

The results of the study suggest that repeated exposure to catastrophic hurricanes causes post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, and continuous fear and worry. Therefore, these psychological symptoms indicate more social and work-related impairment, such as having difficulties in communicating with people along with not being able to maintain work tasks and other everyday activities.

Leading to a greater social crisis

The research was conducted on 1,637 people living in Florida and revealed that individuals are responding more negatively to subsequent hurricanes rather than getting used to them. They assessed Florida residents in the hours leading up to Hurricane Irma's landfall, then re-examined them after Hurricanes Irma and Michael to see whether any mental health abnormalities had occurred. Hurricane Irma happened in September 2017, and Hurricane Michael hit in October 2018, both of which were Category 5 storms.

"We show that people are not likely to habituate, or get used to, climate-related natural disasters that will increase in frequency and severity in the years to come. Our results suggest a potential mental health crisis associated with those who themselves directly experienced the storm or knew someone who did, as well as those who spent several hours engaged with media about the hurricane," said Dana Rose Garfin, Assistant Adjunct Professor at the University of California, Irvine, and first author of the report.

“Some distress is normal following traumatic and extremely stressful events,” stated Garfin. “Most people will recover and display resilience over time. However, as climate-related catastrophic hurricanes and other natural disasters such as wildfires and heat waves escalate, this natural healing process may be disrupted by repeated threat exposure. Moreover, we followed people longitudinally over two hurricane seasons, and our data show that as people experience multiple occurrences over time, psychological symptoms accumulate and intensify, potentially portending a mental health crisis.”

What can be done in order to prevent a social crisis is debatable, but it's a fact that climate change will not only have material but also mental effects on individuals and society. What this study reveals, therefore, is only the tip of the iceberg.