After the lava cools, the psychological trauma remains. Here's how to prepare

(Image: Mick Kalber/Tropical Visions Video)
(Image: Mick Kalber/Tropical Visions Video)

BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - Whether it's a volcanic eruption, an earthquake, or flood, mental health experts say the psychological effects of surviving a natural disaster can be serious.

"I think that people really need to take their mental and emotional health seriously and to not keep pushing it down and being stoic and saying it's going to be OK, said Trisha Kajimura, executive director for Mental Health America of Hawaii.

"But to look for emotional support from their friends and family, and the people right around them ... and then as time passes, really be aware of whether they need to seek professional help."

State officials said last month's historic flooding damaged 532 homes statewide. Seven of those homes on Kauai were classified as destroyed, or forever unlivable, under the Federal Emergency Management Agency's standards.

Those residents are now slowly starting to rebuild.

However, residents on the Big Island are still in the middle of a crisis, and many of them still on survival mode. Doctors say it's only a matter of time before reality sets in for them.

"The effects on an individual might be different," said Dr. Chelsea Wong, staff psychologist at Queens Medical Center. "But on the family unit, it might be a complete impact on the family system, especially with children and older adults."

Mental health professionals say families on the Big Island are suffering from tremendous amounts of stress, and the people of Kauai and Oahu still haven't fully recovered from what they went through last month.

Aside from physically rebuilding, Kajimura says residents need to look at rebuilding their mental and emotional well-being as well.

"What we encourage people to do is look at how it's effecting their daily functioning," Kajimura said. "So, how is my emotional state effecting my ability to get up in the morning, feed my kids, go to work, go to sleep."

Mental Health America of Hawaii has an online screening test people can take to measure where they stand with depression, anxiety, and other things.

Dr. Wong says clues to look out for emotionally are feeling anxious or fearful, overwhelmed by sadness, anger, guilt, having too much energy or not enough, feeling heroic, disconnected, or numb.

Physically, she said people may experience stomach aches, or headaches, eating too much or too little, sweating or having chills, tremors, or become jumpy and/or easily startled.

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