Physical and Mental Health Effects of Natural Disasters on People

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Natural disasters are events that are abrupt and unexpected as well as preventable but completely unavoidable. Around the world there is an average of at least one natural disaster in a day. They are known to have ample effects of phsyical and mental health of the population that is being affected. There is usually a predictable pattern that the population being affected shows. This pattern consists of a herioc phase, honeymoon phase, disiullusionment phase and restoration phase. The heroic phase consists of the people showing humanitarian efforts such as feeding and sheltering the fellow humans. Then comes the honeymoon phase, which is usually when the relief camps come in, plus rehabilitation promises and much more are promised. When the relief material and resources start to run out the survivors start to see the harsh truth about the disaster which is usually after 2-4 weeks of the honeymoon phase. This is usually the phase where mental health workers are of more need. This doesn’t always happen after every disaster but most. Although there hasn’t been much research that has focused specifically on post-disaster anxiety symptoms, there has been more of a focus on PTSD and depression.

A study done by Agyapong and colleagues (2018) demonstrated that anxiety disorder (GAD) symptoms were elevated in the people that were directly involved with the Fort McMurray wildfire in 2016. Agyapong and colleagues (2018) used self-administered paper-based questionnaires and random selection procedures to select the participants. Specifically, the participants were approached randomly and invited to either take the surveys in the designated data collection points or to take them home and return the surveys at the data collection points in a weeks time.

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There were a total of 1500 participants in this study. The study was done six months after the wildfires, therefore data was collected in November of 2016. To specifically assess the generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) symptoms, GAD-7 was used. The GAD-7 is known as the Generalized Anxiety Disorder scale and is one of the most commonly used self-report scales for screening, diagnosis and severity assessment of this disorder. The results of the study showed that the prevalence of the of the GAD symptoms was fairly high. One fifth of the sample reported increased symptoms of general anxiety disorder on self-report, which is almost eight times higher than the rates of generalized anxiety disorders in Canada in the year 2012. With this being said, 14% of the participant population already had a pre-existing anxiety disorder and 9.6% were on antidepressants.

Agypong and colleagues (2018) noticed that the particpants that had an increase in the symptoms of anxiety disorder were more likely to be young and female, relocated to a different home, exposed to media coverage that related to the wildfires, witnessed burning homes or had pre-existing mental health conditions. With this being said, they also saw an increase in substance use in the participants that reported elevated GAD symptoms.

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