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Anyone who experiences or even witnesses a major disaster is at risk of serious stress response symptoms. However, people who have an existing serious mental illness are at an increased risk of a serious stress response, such as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

If someone you love has a serious mental disorder and has just experienced or witnessed a disaster, you should be on the lookout for signs of PTSD and ready to intervene if necessary.

Why Are People With Mental Illness at Greater Risk of PTSD after a Disaster?

Research tells us that people with an existing serious mental illness are far more likely to have pre existing co-occurring PTSD (between 30% and 40% of people with a serious mental illness have a PTSD1).

Why these disorders so often co-occur remains unknown. Scientists don’t know whether people with serious mental illness are also predisposed to stress disorders or whether people with serious mental illness are more likely to experience severe trauma.

Researchers suspect that people with mental illness may be more severely affected by traumatic events, and they know that people with pre-existing PTSD are likely to experience an increase in symptoms severity following exposure to a more recent disaster.

Helping a Loved One with Mental Illness after a Disaster

By learning the signs and symptoms of an unhealthy stress response (PTSD) you can be ready to intervene quickly at the onset of symptoms, and hopefully can minimize their impact. Also be watchful for a sudden worsening of a primary mental illness, which can also indicate an underlying stress disorder.

Effective treatments for PTSD are available. If you see PTSD symptoms, or a worsening of an existing disorder, talk to your loved one about getting a PTSD assessment, or depending on the situation, talk to your loved one’s psychiatric caregiver about your concerns and observations.


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Page last updated Aug 05, 2010

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