Dealing with the Emotional Stress of Hurricane Katrina

September 7, 2005 – Posted at 4:49 p.m. CDT

JONESBORO, AR -- It's been just over a week since Hurricane Katrina pummeled the Gulf Coast. As families who have become evacuees are working to rebuild their lives, many are facing not just physical obstacles, but emotional ones as well. The stress of the storm has also impacted emergency personnel, volunteers and even television viewers at home.

Media coverage of Hurricane Katrina has shown us the graphic images of natural destruction, but for some, it may be too much to handle.

"When you are watching the television coverage, you get obsessed with it.  You want to know everything.  You want to know the severity, particularly if you have relatives in that part of the country. It's much more personalized, " said St. Bernards Behavioral Health psychotherapist Tom Burton.

Children may not be able to comprehend what has happened, but Burton say it's important to make them feel as safe as possible.

"It's the parents responsibility if they watch TV with the children to answer any questions that the child may have," said Burton, "Because the children have their own time frame, the children have their own questions. They may wonder if they are safe, if the water is coming here."

The aftermath of the storm has claimed many lives, including two New Orleans police officers that committed suicide. A mixture of stress, emotion and frustration may have contributed.

"A lot of the officers and firemen were operating on their own, which doubles the stress, and I think it's just a general communication and lack of support for what they were attempting to do," said Burton.

However, for the evacuees who have relocated, they must begin the emotional task of rebuilding their lives.

"These are survivors," said Burton, "and they have a strength in them that all of us do, if they can tap into that inner strength. You need to circle your wagons, keep people around you that you feel good about, that you trust. Talk about all of your feelings, it's an extreme grief issue going on, and with time, with caring and with support, there will be healing that takes place."

It will take years before the areas hit by Hurricane Katrina are rebuilt, and that could hold true for the lives of survivors. Counselors say it's best to take one day at a time.