Letter Re: Stress and Depression in Disasters

James Wesley:
I often times read through the literature and blogs that speak of survival and the process of survival and one staggering issue is all too often neglected. The psychological and emotional aspects are all too often placed in the distant background or worst ignored altogether. I may not be a psychologist but I know from my own personal demons and experiences that stressful situations can slowly begin to affect the decision making process. In a survival situation a foolishly made decision can and most likely cost you dearly.

Any situation that requires that you begin to think about life in terms of life and death as such a survival situation a physiological and psychological response is made. This is the fight or flight response, while in most cases in survival it would not be usually seen as such; it would be view with “rose colored” glasses. In a survival situation fight or flight might be as simple as a decision to stay put (fight) or Bug out (flight). These and all seemingly small actions have a small guided effect from chemicals in the brain which will have been adjusted by the body due to a high stress situation.

In moments of extreme danger this response in magnified by a greater margin. Symptoms of this would include a rapid increase of heart rate and lung function, pupil dilation, and digestive tract upset. The major cause of this is the bodies’ release of biochemical known as adrenaline. Adrenaline is a special hormone that facilitate to body in performing rapid and violent muscle movements and aid the body in moments of danger (fight or flight).

Due to this you may suddenly freeze and be unable to react to the situation or you make a split second decision for the better or worse. In either case the reaction or lack of reaction may or may not directly affect you current goal of overall survival, but the hidden scars on your emotional well-being and psyche build. The lasting effects are what I’m trying to emphasize here. If in the split second decision you made, a life may have been cut short, you or another received a traumatic or crippling injury you could suffer from several different emotional and psychological traumas. The damage may manifest as survivors guilt, post-traumatic stress syndrome of any number of others, this can lead to depression and result in a greater number of issues as result.

Depression is a dangerous, emotional and psychological state to be in if even not in a survival situation. Depression can affect your ability to sleep properly leading to agitation and aggression, lethargy and even sleep deprivation. Any or all of these responses to improper rest can directly affect your chance of survival. Other reactions to depression can be a change in appetite, while not as quickly debilitating as sleep deprivation, a loss of appetite can slow your metabolism and cause health problems. On the flip side your appetite may increase which leads to a rapid depletion of food sources, a very dangerous problem in the fight for survival.
Depression can quickly turn deadly in facing seemingly insurmountable odds. When constantly faced with difficult situations as one would likely expect to find in a survival situation, suicide may seem to be the only solution. Suicide is never the answer. The state of an individual’s mental fortitude is limited and will become tested to the extreme in such tense and stressful situations. if in a group it is a good idea to just talk with everyone and get them to talk to help them and yourself cope. a simple pat on the back and a hug can go a long way to making a bleak situation better. Never try to escape the situation by using delusions such as daydreams, they may make you lose sight of the priorities.

The truth of the matter is there is no simple answer to the issue of psychological heath in such a situation. One would have to constantly keep themselves aware of their limits and allow them to cope in whatever method suits them. This is even more important to individual with clinical depression or individuals with bi-polar disorder as medications may not be readily available if at all. The moral of this article is keep a positive outlook and do what you can to assure yourself that the situation you find yourself in could always be worse. a good laugh or even a good crying session can be a very Therapeutic way to cope with your situation. support form others is another way of coping by sharing your thoughts and feelings. With a little hope and maybe a prayer, your emotional well-being as well as your chances of survival may take a sudden and unexpected turn for the better. – A.A. in the Northwoods