Hidden Epidemics

Published — May 4, 2020

Natural disasters challenge mental health. Tell us your story.

Rescue personnel perform a search in the aftermath of 2018's Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Fla. Michael was among the strongest hurricanes ever to make landfall in the United States. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

We’re digging into the stressful toll of wildfires, hurricanes and floods — and now COVID-19 on top of them. We need your help.


Read the Spanish version here. Lea la versión en español aquí.

Take our survey here or at the bottom of this story.

Every year, weather-related disasters ravage communities across the United States, creating scenes traumatic and, increasingly, familiar. Deadly firestorms throughout the West. Historic floods in the Farm Belt. Catastrophic hurricanes with record rains in the South and along the East Coast. Since 2010, the U.S. has had 37 wildfires, hurricanes and floods causing at least a billion dollars in damage each. That’s more than any previous decade since 1980, when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration started tallying the events.

These disasters also take a toll on mental health. Scientists say rates of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, skyrocket following disasters. One survey of Hurricane Katrina survivors found that a third had mood disorders, and suicidal thoughts more than doubled. Six months after Hurricane Maria, 40 percent of Puerto Ricans showed signs of PTSD, another survey estimated. Many scientific studies suggest similar outcomes after individual wildfires and floods.

Still, little is known about how widespread these issues may be, or how effectively federal, state and local agencies respond to the mental health needs of disaster survivors. There’s even less information about how the spread of the new coronavirus affects people who’ve lived through previous disasters. That’s why we want to hear your story. 

The Center for Public Integrity, Columbia Journalism Investigations and eight local newsrooms are investigating the mental health needs of disaster survivors and how the government is responding. Are you still trying to rebuild your life after a natural disaster? How has the coronavirus pandemic impacted your efforts?

If you have been affected by a wildfire, hurricane or flood in the last 10 years, or if you are a mental health professional studying disasters or working with survivors in that period, you can help by filling out the form below. A better understanding of disaster impacts could assist public and private entities preparing for and responding to future emergencies.

• This survey will take about 15 minutes.

• You can choose to allow a reporter to contact you.

• We will not publish what you tell us in this survey without your permission. All personal information is confidential.

If you have been emotionally affected by a disaster and wish to seek confidential support, you can call the federal Disaster Distress Helpline at 800-985-5990 and speak with a professional trained in crisis counseling.

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