Learn about who is most at risk for emotional distress from hurricanes and tropical storms and where to find disaster-related resources.
Hurricanes are types of tropical storms that form in the southern Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, and eastern Pacific Ocean. Hurricanes affect millions of people who live along the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts each year. Parts of the Southwest United States and the Pacific Coast can also experience severe weather associated with hurricanes, which include tornadoes, floods, and heavy winds.
Hurricane Sandy in 2012 created life-threatening conditions for residents, including prolonged power outages, storm surges, and municipal service disruptions.
It’s normal for hurricanes to cause people to experience emotional distress. Feelings such as overwhelming anxiety, constant worrying, trouble sleeping, and other depression-like symptoms are common responses before, during, and after these types of storms. Other signs of emotional distress related to hurricanes include:
- Fearing that forecasted storms may develop into a hurricane even when the chances they will are low
- Constant yelling or fighting with family and friends
- Having thoughts, memories, or nightmares related to the storm that you can’t seem to get out of your head
These are just a few warning signs of disaster-related distress. Learn more about warning signs and risk factors for emotional distress related to hurricanes and other disasters.
Where Can I Get Help?
If you or someone you know shows any of these symptoms for two weeks or more, whether you know they are in relation to a hurricane or tropical storm or if it is unclear how they started ... Talk with us. You are not alone! Call the Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746 for support and counseling. The Disaster Distress Helpline is a national hotline that provides 24/7, year-round crisis counseling for people who are experiencing emotional distress related to any natural or human-caused disaster.
This toll-free, multilingual, and confidential crisis support service is available to all residents in the United States and its territories. Spanish-speakers should text Hablanos to 66746. English speakers in U.S. territories text TalkWithUs to 1-212-461-4635. Calls and texts are answered by trained, caring counselors from crisis call centers located throughout the United States.
Standard text and data message rates will apply when texting from mobile phones. International text and data rates may apply from within U.S. territories and free association nations.
Who is at Risk for Emotional Distress?
Forecasts for hurricanes and tropical storms can last for days as they take shape. People living in hurricane-prone areas as well as anyone who has struggled to recover from experiences with past storms may be vulnerable to distress before the event occurs. Other people at risk for emotional distress due to these types of storms include:
- Children and teens. After a hurricane, young people may worry that another tropical storm will happen again. They may become overly dependent, have trouble eating and sleeping, or show physical symptoms such as stomachaches and headaches.
- Older adults. Older adults are more likely to need social support to reduce the effects of stress and move forward on the path of recovery. Some older adults may also be dealing with the loss of physical capabilities and possibly independence.
- First responders and recovery workers. These individuals may experience prolonged separation from loved ones (depending on the severity of the storm or hurricane) and show signs of mental fatigue.
Once warnings and evacuation orders are issued, the risk for emotional distress becomes greater:
- You may feel unprepared, isolated, overwhelmed, or confused. Uncertainty about where to go during a hurricane, how to keep your pets safe, or whether you will be able to continue taking any medications can cause emotional distress.
- You may lose contact with a loved one in an impacted area due to power and Internet outages.
- You may experience difficult memories and emotions associated with similar traumatic experiences in the past.
- If you are relocated, being in an unfamiliar environment can be difficult, especially for people with limited physical mobility, economic means, or knowledge of the English language.
Returning to a home, business, school, or place of worship impacted by a hurricane may cause additional distress, especially if there is structural damage. A temporary or permanent loss of employment may also occur.
Remember, too, that the anniversary of a disaster or tragic event can renew feelings of fear, anxiety, and sadness in disaster survivors. Certain smells or sounds, such as smoke or sirens, can also trigger emotional distress. These and other environmental sensations can take people right back to the event, or cause them to fear that it’s about to happen again. These “trigger events” can happen at any time.
People can experience a wide range of emotions before and after a disaster or traumatic event. There’s no right or wrong way to feel. However, it’s important to find healthy ways to cope when these events happen. Learn about coping tips for dealing with hurricanes, tropical storms, and other types of disasters.
A hurricane-specific resource collection is offered through the Disaster Behavioral Health Information Series (DBHIS) from the SAMHSA Disaster Technical Assistance Center (DTAC). A flood-specific resource collection is also available. Learn more about floods and emotional distress.
SAMHSA also offers the following tip sheets on coping, stress, and trauma after hurricanes and other disasters:
- A Roadmap to Behavioral Health: A Guide to Using Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Services (PDF | 803 KB)
- Tips for Talking With and Helping Children and Youth Cope After a Disaster or Traumatic Event: A Guide for Parents, Caregivers, and Teachers – 2012 covers signs of stress reactions in different age groups and how to help.
- Tips for Disaster Responders: Preventing and Managing Stress – 2014 includes strategies to help disaster responders prevent and manage stress during assignments. This tip sheet is also available in Spanish.
- Tips for Survivors of a Disaster or Other Traumatic Event: Managing Stress – 2013 discusses stress-relief strategies and when to seek professional help. This tip sheet is also available in Spanish.
SAMHSA's Behavioral Health Disaster Response Mobile App offers first responders immediate access to resources for aiding disaster survivors.
Through DTAC, SAMHSA helps states, territories, tribes, and local entities deliver an effective mental health and substance abuse (behavioral health) response to hurricanes and other natural disasters. Learn more about these issues and find more disaster-related resources at Disaster Preparedness, Response, and Recovery.