Tips to Addressing Environmental Disasters

Despite the decrease of COVID restrictions, California residents are experiencing stress, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The reason? California is facing water restrictions due to drought and a potentially dangerous wildfire season.

 

The Impact of Water Restrictions

 

California has experienced droughts before this year. There are several historical droughts, including from 2012-16 and 1987-92. During the 1920s and ’30s, the state went through periods of dry conditions; California is no stranger to a lack of water. Water shortages cause multiple hazards to communities. Public health, economic, environmental, and safety issues arise as drought persists. Each of these concerns also impacts the physical and mental health of those affected.

 

Although California is accustomed to droughts, they can strain people’s mental health. Water scarcity disrupts lives. Some may need to move to areas with a reliable source of water. The decrease in water availability also affects mental health as physical health degrades. Cities already face environmental concerns, heat waves that affect the power grid, and air quality; when a drought occurs, these issues become even more dire. 

 

Climate changes that cause droughts, heatwaves, and wildfires affect vulnerable populations; the elderly and those in lower socioeconomic statuses. The stress of the overlap between heat waves and water restriction can increase substance use and addiction. However, there are ways to help a client with a substance use disorder attributed to mental distress.

 

Strong Communities

 

A strong community exists because the people believe in its strength. Water restriction regulations affect a community. The community responds to the restrictions as a group invested in helping each other. The theory that people are coming together can help those experiencing an increased urge to use a substance; groups support each other.

 

Group therapy sessions focused on the stress, anxiety, or uncertainty surrounding the drought can create the same support felt in substance addiction groups. Group sessions form a sense of belonging and like-mindedness. In these sessions, a therapist guides conversation while the members discuss their fears, expectations, or healthy coping skills. 

 

Find ways to encourage your clients to engage in measures to help save water. For example, they can join a water preservation group, replace old water fixtures with water-saving fixtures, or reduce their water use through public health-approved measures. 

 

Approach water restrictions as a positive instead of a negative. When everyone does their part to reduce their water use, they also help prevent other natural disasters, like wildfires. 

 

Wildfires and PTSD

 

The devastating effects wildfires have on communities and individuals are incalculable. From the evidence of fires in lakes thousands of years ago to 1542 when Spanish Conquistadors sailed into San Pedro Bay and saw smoke, fire is as “California” as the Hollywood sign. But, fire leaves more behind than smoke, ash, and charcoal; it leaves devastation behind. The increase in wildfires can trigger PTSD, anxiety, or depression in people because they threaten the security of their lives, loved ones, income, or community. 

 

In an article from “The Atlantic,” Patricia Watson of the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder found approximately 10 to 30 percent of those who survived a wildfire will develop a mental health disorder, like PTSD or depression. Uncertainty is the main factor when it comes to how people perceive their environment. If your client has a history of substance addiction or mental health issues, they are at an increased risk of substance abuse.

 

Substance Use Disorder and Natural Disasters

 

After a natural disaster like a drought or a wildfire, your client can experience PTSD, depression, or anxiety. Predictors of these mental health disorders are:

 

  • History of a mental health disorder
  • Watching homes destroyed in a wildfire
  • Moving into a different home, town, or county after the wildfire
  • Receiving limited financial or social support

 

People affected by any of these factors are at an increased risk of a substance use disorder (SUD).

 

Wildfires wipe out homes, businesses, or communities in a short period. Everything someone has worked for is gone. Watching a life built in recovery be consumed by a wildfire can be devastating. Your client is faced with rebuilding their lives, lives they made after treatment. When everything around a person is chaotic or uncertain, they can fall back into harmful habits. 

 

Building Certainty

 

Uncertainty is a part of life. No one can control everyone or everything, but everyone can take steps to prevent disaster or harm from happening. For example, people can take steps to make their houses and lawn environmentally friendly. They can join groups dedicated to reducing harmful practices, and they can practice fire safety. These are positive ways to reduce uncertainty, but they aren’t the only things that can help reduce emotions surrounding natural disasters.

 

Substance addiction treatment focuses on a person’s individual needs. During a person’s time in therapy, you can guide them to understand the connection between their substance addiction, their feelings, and uncertainty. In addition, the introduction of holistic treatments such as yoga, meditation, art-centered activities, or other healthy activities can aid them in redirecting their urge to use a substance when feeling out of control. 

 

We can’t control nature, but we can take steps to reduce negative impacts on the environment. For example, through active engagement in groups focused on decreasing environmental harm, we can help prevent natural disasters using water-efficient appliances and fixtures. However, the impact of a natural disaster like a wildfire or a drought can leave long-lasting mental health issues. Feelings of depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), or anxiety increase the chance of substances being used to help numb or neutralize those emotions. Through substance addiction treatment, people can learn to replace negative behaviors with positive, healthy behaviors. Group sessions and individual therapy focused on their unique needs combined with holistic therapies like yoga or meditation reduce the urge to use substances. Alta Centers is an inclusive detoxification center that is client-focused. We are a small, comfortable center located in the Hollywood Hills. For more information, call us at (888) 202-2583 today.

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