News Release Distributed 08/22/06
Flashbacks, feelings of grief or depression and other symptoms can be attributed to the anniversary of a traumatic event such as the loss of a loved one, an accident or a natural disaster. LSU AgCenter family life professor Dr. Diane D. Sasser
expects many people will suffer the "anniversary effects" of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
"These reactions are normal," Sasser says, explaining that our bodies and minds often unconsciously mark time. Our reactions are triggered by sights, sounds and smells.
"Not everyone associated with the hurricanes will have the same reactions," the family expert notes. In some adults the reactions may be triggered by photos, repeated media footage or other remembrances of the tragic events. Children may react to thunderstorms.
The extent to which people’s lives were disrupted by the disaster, their perceptions of potential threat and how much family support they have will determine how they cope with the anniversary effect.
Disaster relief workers, government officials and service providers as well as the victims may be struck with grief as these anniversary dates approach. Sasser emphasizes that the anniversary effect is a common and normal response. She offers some coping activities.
- Try to view the anniversary date as a time to take stock of how far you have come, the changes you have made and where you plan to go from here.
- Find a creative outlet.
- Take extra care of yourself.
- Consider some type of anniversary commemoration, which can be a constructive way to cope. Recognize, however, that not everyone in the community will want to take part. Those not affected by the storms might consider the observance unnecessary and a waste of time while others still displaced, unemployed or otherwise struggling may be offended or upset by an event observing a disaster responsible for their current status. Therefore, plan and handle personal, family and community observances with great sensitivity.
- For a constructive commemoration, plan a ritual that’s useful and meaningful, such as replanting trees that were destroyed by the floods. Target those who lost homes, farms or businesses. Include families of victims, disaster relief workers, schools, civic organizations, public officials, mental health professionals and the media. Ask someone from each of these groups to help plan the event so that it accomplishes its objectives of healing the community.
- Make journal entries or write blogs as a way to deal with the anniversary effect.
- Limit viewing of media coverage and imagery of damage and destruction.
- Look toward the future by setting personal, family and community goals, including preventive measures of future disasters. This will give a sense of empowerment.
"If the anniversary effect seems to last over a month, consider consulting a counselor or other mental health professional," Sasser advises.
For local information and educational programs, contact an extension agent in your parish LSU AgCenter office.