Hurricane Ian survivors still finding help for trauma recovery

Reporter: Amy Oshier Writer: Joey Pellegrino
Published: Updated:

Many Hurricane Ian survivors are still trying to move past the trauma. A half-year after the storm, many people are still processing their emotions, and crisis counselors say that’s perfectly normal.

Alyssa Whitty, 24, never imagined confronting the trauma of a lifetime. She weathered Ian on Fort Myers Beach with only her dad and some prayers.

Alyssa Whitty. (Credit: WINK News)

“About noon, water started coming in, and it just kept getting worse and worse,” Whitty said. “And the worst part of the storm… I was in the bathtub, just praying and praying and praying I’d live another day.”

Before they hunkered down and hoped for the best, the view from her condo was bleak.

“We had mattresses pinned against our windows,” Whitty said. “And if we didn’t have those, I’m not too sure what would have happened.”

Six months post-Ian, Whitty says she’s dealing with post-traumatic stress.

“I wake up several times a week throughout the middle of the night to my entire building shaking and rattling, even though it’s not; it’s just PTSD I’ve been going through, you know,” Whitty said. “Some days are harder than others.”

People who counsel trauma survivors say there’s no timeline for recovery. It’s not like rebuilding a community; restoring peace of mind doesn’t always go as planned.

Christian Burgess, the director of the National Disaster Distress Helpline, says calls related to Ian are still coming in at high volume.

“It is common for folks to think, ‘Everyone else seems to be recovering, but I still feel stuck,'” Burgess said. “In the most recent month for which we had available data, hurricanes are still the most common presenting issue across all disaster types for this as a national service, which tells us something that people are still reaching out six months after Hurricane Ian.”

Whitty feared the six-month milestone would dredge up memories. Counselors say it’s never too late to ask for help. The principles of trauma counseling are to regain a sense of safety and connectedness. Despair can be isolating.

“The DDH exists to help you cope with distress or other difficult emotions,” Burgess said. “It could be for those temporary distress reactions where you need to just talk to someone about what’s on your mind, to help you to be able to move forward and complete those tasks of recovery. Or it can be for those people experiencing more serious mental health concerns.”

“That traumatic experience really puts life into perspective about, you know, the things that really matter,” Whitty said. “And, honestly, just being alive is a gift.”

Talking about it helps Whitty. She’s confident she will be stronger on the other side of her trauma.

Whether it takes weeks, months or years, the disaster call line is always open. It can also connect you to local resources.

You can learn more about the Disaster Distress Helpline by clicking here. You can also call 1-800-985-5990 if you need to speak with someone.

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