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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 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

“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.

Many people who experience a traumatic event, like a tornado, may suffer symptoms similar to PTSD. But Wyatt said most people do not get 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.

Rhonda Miller began as reporter and host for All Things Considered on WKU Public Radio in 2015. She has worked as Gulf Coast reporter for Mississippi Public Broadcasting, where she won Associated Press, Edward R. Murrow and Green Eyeshade awards for stories on dead sea turtles, health and legal issues arising from the 2010 BP oil spill and homeless veterans.
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