Navigating the Stages of Grief Following Hurricane Harvey

In the days and weeks following a natural disaster like Hurricane Harvey, it is common for emotions to run high as many experience anxiety and grief over personal and widespread loss. However, acknowledging these feelings is often put on the backburner while individuals address immediate needs, such as cleaning out flooded homes, returning to work and volunteering to help others as they begin their recovery efforts. But taking the time care for your mental health is a crucial step in beginning the healing process.

Thousands of people across the Greater Houston area – and many more in Southeast Texas – have been displaced from their homes or have lost their homes due to the effects of Hurricane Harvey. The emotional toll of this catastrophic loss can cause panic and fear, and can impact people in different ways, at different times.

“While it may be tempting to help others by distracting them from their circumstances, it is important to allow those who are suffering the opportunity to openly communicate their pain and grief,” says Mariam Massoud, PhD, LMFT, education specialist at Memorial Hermann Behavioral Health Services. “Sometimes, simply being present and making a connection with your loved ones who are grieving can help them tremendously.”

According to Massoud, individuals who have experienced loss typically go through five stages of grief. Recognizing these stages can help others understand what kind of support their loved ones may need.

  1. Denial
    Denial is a short-term way to deal with an overwhelming amount of emotion, and your loved one may feel shocked or numb during this first stage. Denial is considered a defense mechanism.
  2. Anger
    Your loved one may feel frustrated and helpless as the reality of their loss sets in, which turns into feelings of anger. This anger may be directed toward other people or life, in general.
  3. Bargaining
    During this stage, your loved one may dwell on what could have been done to prevent the loss, with thoughts like “What if…” and “If only…”
  4. Depression
    As sadness sets in, your loved one may feel overwhelmed by their loss more than ever. Signs of depression include crying, sleep issues (lack of sleep or excessive sleep) and a decreased appetite.
  5. Acceptance
    In this final stage of grief, your loved one will begin to accept the reality of their loss. Although feelings of sadness may linger for some time, they are able to begin to move forward.

How to Cope with a Loss of Your Own

Personally coping with emotional high’s and low’s after Harvey can be a daunting task. However, giving yourself time to work through them in a healthy way must also be at the top of your priority list.

“It is important to show ourselves the same kindness and understanding we would show others going through a similar traumatic event,” says Massoud. “Embracing difficult emotions instead of ignoring them, and turning toward family and friends for support can be hugely beneficial to the healing process.”

Massoud suggests taking the following actions when suffering loss:

  • Utilize local counseling relief and resources available to you through work, church and the community.
  • Seek comfort in close relationships with friends and family, or with others who are experiencing or have experienced similar loss.
  • Write down thoughts, feelings and frustrations. Telling your story through journaling can help release emotions.

“During times of catastrophe, when we are likely to turn our attention to meeting essential needs like food and shelter, we must also remember our fundamental need for human connection,” says Massoud. “Whether you are grieving or supporting a loved one who is, reach out to those around you to share your fears, frustrations and hopes.”

Memorial Hermann’s Mental Health Crisis Clinics can help meet the mental health needs of individuals during a crisis situation. To learn more or to schedule an appointment, call 713.338.MHCC (6422).

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