In difficult times, conventional wisdom assures us that we will endure and perhaps even improve– becoming wiser, or more spiritual, or more grounded – from the hardships faced. The adage, that which does not kill us will make us stronger, is almost considered fact, and indeed there is some empiric evidence behind that phrase. However, are some traumas simply too much to bear, having a long-term, even lasting, impact upon survivors and their families?
A study of Hurricane Katrina survivors, specifically low-income mothers, found that they continued to experience mental health problems several years post-hurricane. Four years after the natural disaster one-third of the sample were still suffering from post-traumatic stress symptoms and 30 percent experiencing psychological distress, both above pre-storm levels. The researchers found that experiencing stressors such as lack of edible food or clean water, home damage and injury due to Hurricane Katrina corresponded with risk of long term post-traumatic stress.
Although the authors warn that the study is not generalizable to the larger population, this data provides valuable insight into the true duration of the human impact of a natural disaster the magnitude of Hurricane Katrina.