• Ella Wischnewsky

Natural Disasters and the Threat of Trauma

Photo by Aaron Thomas on Unsplash

Natural disasters threaten to break apart homes and communities, and often displace entire populations. Understandably, the increase in natural disasters that the world is experiencing brings fear to many people’s minds.

According to a report in The Economist on the rising prevalence of natural disasters, in 2016 there were around seven hundred natural disasters reported around the world. The research, done by insurance company Munich Re, shows the causes of these natural disasters to include meteorological, hydrological, and climatological factors. People are becoming more equipped to deal with natural disasters and their detrimental effects, however, one issue that often goes unnoticed in examining natural disasters is the trauma that they inflict on citizens.

A paper by the University of Cincinnati Department of Psychiatry details how natural disasters affect the specific trauma membranes of citizens and how psychotherapy can attempt to remedy this trauma. In this paper by Jacob Lindy, titled “The Trauma Membrane and Other Clinical Concepts derived from Psychotherapeutic Work with Survivors of Natural Disasters”, Lindy examines the problems that arise in treating survivor populations. He attempts to explain the complex stages of grief and mourning that survivors go through, and how trauma treatment depends on the type of natural disaster that a patient has experienced (Lindy). Since the spectrum of exposure to natural disasters that survivors can experience varies so widely, it is difficult to determine if there is a universal experience that people who have lived through a natural disaster could all relate to (Lindy).

Some survivors witnessed the deaths of their loved ones, feared for their own lives, or were personally injured during disasters. An article titled “When Is Exposure to a Natural Disaster Traumatic? Comparison of a Trauma Questionnaire and Disaster Exposure Inventory” by Emily Harville, explains how survivors of natural disasters often experience PTSD and depression. These mental health issues frequently prevail long after the onset of natural disasters (Harville). All of these possible outcomes of natural disasters threaten to dismantle a survivor’s world and throw them into despair.

If the cleanup of a natural disaster is not done by a government efficiently and remnants aren’t cleared quickly, a survivor’s mourning process may be impeded by the remains of the event. It is pertinent that officials attempt to undo the effects of natural disasters in short periods of time in order to protect the health of citizens. Exposure to destruction can lead to lasting and detrimental damages, and it is the government’s duty to protect citizens from these effects.

When governments consider future issues that they will need to deal with, they should take into account how natural disasters will impact the environment. If natural disasters continue to increase at current rates, they pose a threat to government’s ability to protect their constituents. In order to effectively help their populations, governments should prepare for natural disasters not only through urban plans, but also through effective therapy protocols to help residents. Trauma can prevail long after disasters hit, and governments need to help survivors mourn effectively in order to move on after an event.


Harville, Emily W., et al. “When Is Exposure to a Natural Disaster Traumatic? Comparison of a

Trauma Questionnaire and Disaster Exposure Inventory.” Plos One, vol. 10, no. 4, 8 Apr.


Lindy, Jacob D. “The Trauma Membrane and Other Clinical Concepts Derived from Psychotherapeutic Work with Survivors of Natural Disasters.” Psychiatric Annals, vol. 15, no. 3, 1 Mar. 1985, pp. 153–160.

Thomas, Aaron. “Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya, Thailand.” Unsplash, 15 Feb. 2018.

“Weather-Related Disasters Are Increasing.” The Economist, The Economist Newspaper, 29

Aug. 2017.

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