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  • Writer's pictureSkye White

Recovering from Disaster — What to anticipate as the pandemic continues

The COVID 19 pandemic has been an event unlike anything we as a society have ever had to endure. This is truly new territory. However, utilizing past disasters and the observed behavioral health outcomes, we can begin to predict what comes next for the mental health of our communities.

Disaster recovery phases

After a disaster, communities typically experience six phases of recovery, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The Phases of Disaster model outlines these stages, and the COVID-19 pandemic is no exception. This model is applicable to disasters ranging from terrorist attacks to natural disasters and also fits for a global pandemic. The phases include the pre-disaster phase, the impact phase, the heroic phase, the honeymoon phase, the disillusionment phase, and the reconstruction phase.

Phase 1, The Pre-Disaster Phase occurs prior to the disaster and may or may not include a warning. Common feelings in this phase are fear and uncertainty.

Phase 2, The Impact Phase is when the disaster occurs. Intense emotional reactions are common in this phase as well as confusion, disbelief, and self-preservation.

Phase 3, The Heroic Phase centers around feelings of altruism. Some community members may engage in risky rescue behavior. Often risk assessment is impaired in this phase.

Phase 4, The Honeymoon Phase is characterized by a sense of optimism and community building with the hope that things will return to normal quickly.

Phase 5, The Disillusionment Phase occurs when limitations to disaster assistance become evident and is characterized by discouragement and stress and often accompanied by higher rates of substance use.

Phase 6, The Reconstruction Phase marks the ability of communities to adjust to a new status quo.

Washingtonians have reached disillusionment

The Washington State Department of Health released an analysis of expected behavioral health outcomes and can be read here. The report suggests that as of July 2020, Washington state has moved from the Honeymoon Phase to the Disillusionment Phase of disaster recovery. We no longer anticipate that things will go back back to normal any day now, and the reality is setting in that we may need to hunker down with this pandemic for longer than we originally thought. During this transition, behavioral health outcomes typically worsen as community members realize a discrepancy between available and needed assistance.

What happens when we feel disillusioned?

As we continue to navigate through the Disillusionment Phase of the COVID 19 pandemic, Washington State Department of Health anticipates an overall increase in negative behavioral health outcomes such as substance use, domestic violence, general violence and aggression, depression, isolation, and suicide attempts. Most of these outcomes will be an exacerbation of pre-existing issues. These outcomes will also likely disproportionately affect communities of color.

Although these forecasts seem bleak, being aware of the patterns can act as a protective factor, allowing us to prepare and focus on our resiliency as individuals and a community.

Building resilience

Resilience is essential when dealing with issues that are out of our control. Although resilience can look a little different for everyone, some basic tenets are:

  • Maintaining a connection to friends, family, and your community

  • Drawing on personal experiences of hardship in the past and applying coping skills to the present

  • Making peace with what you can and cannot control and working to change what you can for the better

  • Working towards accepting the present and managing your expectations about the future

  • Listening to your needs and taking care of yourself by maintaining a self-care routine or by seeking out social supports or mental health care when needed

  • Holding on to hope, even if the normal you knew won’t come back the same way, or any time soon. Communities get through disasters one way or another — we will overcome, as humans always do.

Seeking support

There is no shame in seeking support, particularly as we continue to navigate a pandemic. Many therapists are offering video sessions during this time. Telehealth is a safe, effective way to access mental health support and is covered by most insurance companies. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us at Catalyst Counseling to schedule an appointment.

It’s important to take care of ourselves and one another in this difficult time. Knowing about the disaster model can help us prepare to take care of ourselves and our loved ones.

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