Helping Communities Deal with Relocation Stress after a Disaster


Helping Communities Deal with Relocation Stress after a Disaster

Disasters and natural calamities have a long-lasting effect on the environment and communities. Floods, earthquakes, forest fires, hurricanes, and even pandemics create emergencies, causing casualties and disrupting the lives of community members. Disasters can impair victims’ emotional health and well-being. The severity of the situation requires local authorities and government bodies to relocate disaster-struck people in a certain community to other temporary shelters.

The after-effects of a disaster may be more devastating for survivors than the calamity itself. Most people develop various forms of anxiety, depression, and stress, including post-trauma stress disorder (PTSD) and relocation stress syndrome.

What is Relocation Stress?

Relocation stress is also called transfer trauma. It is a set of symptoms associated with relocation and tends to be severe when relocation happens immediately after a disaster has struck a community. Unexpected evacuations during a disaster can put a community’s residents under significant stress. Stress from the evacuation process can make people feel abandoned by society and the government in their new location. Victims may also believe there wasn’t enough time to prepare for the evacuation.

Communicating Public Health Information

Public health officials have a major role to protect and improve the physical and mental health conditions of individuals and communities. Dealing with relocation stress and helping the community cope with it is the first step towards restoration, and public health workers have the skills necessary to address it.

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The goal of public health officials in a relocated community is to communicate health information to individuals and communities and spread awareness related to mental and physical health. They are also responsible for brainstorming locations for regional distribution of medicine during and after a disaster, also called points of dispensing or PODs. Public health officials often have to participate in a coordinated response following a significant disaster to save lives and guard against adverse effects, like relocation stress, on vulnerable populations. Public health workers include nurses, officials, doctors, nutritionists, psychologists, and social workers.

Common Stress Issues in a Relocated Community

People in a community show typical signs of stress that result from normal, short-term reactions to unexpected events. However, healthcare facilities and public health authorities need to identify symptoms that various relocation factors may have triggered after a calamity.

While many people recover from relocation stress fairly soon, others experience distressing thoughts resulting in physical symptoms. Such people may also engage in risky and rather challenging behaviors. People who have seen casualties or suffer from losing loved ones may also develop mental disorders like depression, post-trauma stress disorder, and even suicidal tendencies. Stress may be related to disaster, relocation, or both. Here are some common signs of people who need assistance in managing crisis:

  • Intense or unpredictable feelings
  • Increased use of drugs
  • Changes in behavior patterns and thoughts
  • Sensitivity to environmental factors like loud noises, burning smells, or sirens that trigger memories of the disaster
  • Sleep disorders
  • Difficulty communicating thoughts
  • Difficulty in paying attention
  • Disorientation and confusion
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Extreme mood swings and increased spells of crying
  • Fear of being alone or in crowds
  • Lack of appetite
  • Lack of energy; consistently feeling exhausted
  • Social isolation
  • Not wanting to sleep, and frequent nightmares
  • Frequent stomachaches, nausea, or bloating

Following are some factors related to evacuations and relocations that may cause the above-mentioned mental health issues:

  • The despair of extreme damage or loss of property
  • A sudden change in life and everyday routines
  • Separation from family and friends
  • The sudden demise of loved ones during or after the disaster
  • The paranoia of the new location and unknown people

Helping Communities Manage Stress

Disaster recovery plans often start immediately after evacuating victims from the area and may take weeks or months for everything to return to normal again. The primary objectives in the recovery process also include improving the mental and emotional strengths of relocated victims. Local authorities and public health officials provide psychological, administrative, and health support to relocated communities to help them recover from mental and physical trauma. Here are some steps these officials can take to manage the relocation stress of individuals and communities effectively:

1. Creating Local Support Groups

Set up local groups led by trained and experienced professionals, primarily from the public health sector. These people will motivate victims to express thoughts and feelings and provide emotional support to overcome difficult times. Local support groups also help people deal with everyday issues and assess their tangible losses. They communicate with local authorities and disaster management programs to help rebuild the lives of disaster-struck people. People also find comfort in local support groups and feel they are not alone.

2. Listen to Their Stories

Not everyone opens up and communicates their thoughts in a local group. People suffering from immense stress need individualized attention. Nurses, physicians, and psychiatrists can help such people build confidence and recover from emotional trauma. Once you have their trust, listen to their stories and encourage them to speak more by asking more questions and showing emotional support.

3. Develop an Emotional Understanding of the Disaster Experience

To help stressful communities and individuals cope with stress, you must develop a higher understanding of their experiences. Your research will help you figure out where therapies, medications, and emotional support can help such people come out of the aftershocks of the disaster in a way that thoughts of this catastrophe become less painful and depressing.

4. Engage People in Healthy Behaviors

Community discussions, awareness programs, and individualized sessions can help people return to routine lives. Healthy activities in all age groups have an extremely positive effect on relieving relocation stress. Following are some suggestions to engage people in healthy behaviors according to their age group:

Children

  • Set up activity camps and arrange painting competitions, sports events, and fun festivals to promote activity-based learning and healthy behaviors.
  • Visuals are the most effective ways to distract children and make them forget frightening life events. Make use of interactive games, movie sessions, and educational videos.

Teenagers

  • Create a small group of peers and foster communication between teen groups
  • Create part-time job opportunities to engage teens in healthy activities and earn money
  • Physical exercise is a great way of relieving stress. Start physical training sessions, yoga classes, music and art courses, and recreational classes

Senior Citizens

  • Conduct exercise sessions
  • Provide strong and verbal reassurance
  • Promote awareness to rely lesser on news
  • Help adults assess the loss of tangible possessions and assist in their recovery
  • Help them get into contact with family and friends
  • Assist in getting medical treatment and reaching nearby commercial areas like grocery stores.
  • Dedicate nursing staff to more dependent individuals
  • Help individuals in getting medical and financial assistance

5. Medical Support for Extreme Cases

There are many cases in relocated communities where individuals do not respond to counseling and emotional therapies and show persistent feelings of distress and hopelessness. Such cases are serious and may require medical intervention. Public health officials can establish competent health facilities in the area and ensure proper medical treatment of these individuals.

Final Thoughts

Relocation stress is mostly temporary; people learn to cope with it and return to normal routines. However, people under extreme stress, which often comes from losing a loved one, struggle to cope. Community groups, public health officials, physicians, psychiatrists, and social welfare organizations can help people manage their stress and become proactive community members again.