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How to take care of your mental health after a disaster

A neighbor brings a plant to Reese VanCamp's home that he thought may have been hers. VanCamp's garden was destroyed during Hurricane Ian.
Tara Calligan
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A neighbor brings a plant to Reese VanCamp's home that he thought may have been hers. VanCamp's garden was destroyed during Hurricane Ian.

The toll a situation like surviving a near-Category 5 hurricane can take on one's mental health can have a massive impact on individuals and the community at-large.

While in the field in downtown Fort Myers the morning after Hurricane Ian hit Southwest Florida, WGCU reporter/producer Tara Calligan met Reese VanCamp, the Director of Advanced Providers at Elite DNA Behavioral Health in Fort Myers.

VanCamp took time from clearing debris left by Hurricane Ian to discuss the importance of addressing mental health during a disaster.

TRANSCRIPT:

Calligan: With a storm like this going through a catastrophic event, it's extremely taxing on one's mental health. What kind of advice would you give to people that are just really going through this right now?

VanCamp: I think a good point is to kind of take assessment of what's going on around you. I think the best thing you can do with anxiety is know your surroundings to kind of get a plan together first.

So, just kind of taking each thing one at a time, making a plan with family or friends and then moving forward, you know, piece by piece instead of looking at this whole overwhelming picture.

Calligan: With someone who's maybe going through this for the very first time, any kind of a disaster, this is one of the hardest hit hitting storms that Southwest Florida has ever experienced. What is a way for them to start if they are really in that overwhelming state?

VanCamp: I think speaking to one another, speaking to people in your neighborhood or your apartment building, speaking to friends, there is the suicide hotline. If you're feeling really scared, you could always just reach out to 988 and speak to someone. There are a lot of mental health hotlines out there that are free.

Uhm, you know, local colleges, if you're on a college campus, they all have centers to go to and someone to talk to. So, there's usually a lot of debriefing that goes on.

There's a lot of opportunities to talk to someone, and I think that's the most important thing to do.

Calligan: What about in terms of maybe even giving, you know, giving yourself a break, giving yourself that space to feel those?

VanCamp: I think that's really important, just because, you know, we get so into that, that mode if we just need to get things done. But really, if you take some time and decompress, you'll get it done more effectively.

So, just taking the time except how you feel, and you know that it's OK, and then everybody else around you is probably feeling the same, you might be giving them a space where they can vent the same kind of feelings.

Calligan: Is anxiety and the feeling that you would get in a situation like this different than something that someone may have felt before?

VanCamp: Anxiety often comes from being in a situation where you don't want to be in. Mostly panic because your body is trying to get you out of that situation. People being kind of in a panic mode or feeling like their bodies overreacting right now would be very, very normal.

Your body is just trying to protect it, so taking that, accepting those feelings and just letting that kind of move through would be the best-case scenario.

Calligan: Anything else you feel would be important for listeners, for people in the area who are really struggling at this moment?

VanCamp: Again, talking to family and friends, I think is good. That's part of the reason we have friends and part of the reasons we have family is to have that communication to help us out when we need.

So, don't be afraid to reach out, because that's what we're here for. I know I've walked around our neighborhood and everyone offering each other help. You just have to reach out and accept it.

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