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Mental health issues may surface months after tornadoes devastated communities across Kentucky

Tornadoes damaged and destroyed hundreds of homes in Warren County, Kentucky in December 2021.
Rhonda J. Miller
Tornadoes damaged and destroyed hundreds of homes in Warren County, Kentucky in December 2021.

It’s been about three months since tornadoes devastated hundreds of homes and businesses across Kentucky.

As individuals continue to rebuild their homes and lives, a social worker with LifeSkills in Bowling Green said mental health issues resulting from the trauma of the tornado may just now be setting in for some survivors.

Rachel Wyatt said some people impacted by the Dec. 10 and 11 tornadoes that ripped across Kentucky, from Mayfield through Dawson Springs to Bowling Green, had to focus on immediate needs like food and shelter.

After those impacted by the tornado found temporary or permanent housing, recovered some of their personal papers and belongings, and had a chance to file for disaster relief, they may finally have enough energy and perspective to address mental health issues that might have been lingering below the initial trauma.

“Because the symptoms aren’t necessarily to the degree that it’s disrupting their lives to a point where they feel that intervention is necessary, because they’re trying to get those basic needs met first,” said Wyatt.

Some people who experience a traumatic event, like a tornado, may suffer symptoms similar to PTSD. There are a few major symptoms, including changes in physical or emotional reactions, that may be a sign of PTSD.

“Being easily startled or frightened. Having overwhelming guilt. Self-destructive behaviors like drug and alcohol abuse. Trouble sleeping. Trouble concentrating,” said Wyatt. “In kids, this can look like upset tummies or not wanting to do their homework, not wanting to go to school.”

Wyatt said other symptoms of PTSD including intrusive memories like flashbacks or nightmares or avoiding people or places that trigger memories of the traumatic event.

Individuals who have long lasting symptoms, experience drug or alcohol abuse, or experience changes in behavior that disrupt their lives, may have PTSD and should seek guidance from a professional mental health counselor.

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