Now we rebuild. With Tropical Storm Harvey behind us, Galveston County is left with the monumental task of rebuilding lives, homes and businesses. And in many cases, these threads creating the fabric of our communities are at risk.

Furniture can be replaced, cars repaired, but there is something much larger at stake here — the potential for psychological suffering as people face the long road of rebuilding their lives.

Mental health is an underreported aspect of disasters. The lasting effects on our emotions or psyche tend to live beneath the surface of our minds, quietly brewing or festering until a trigger moment arrives.

And it is the trauma of the recent flooding that may put many people in Galveston County at risk.

Studies show that 50 percent or more of people affected by natural disasters suffer from clinically significant distress, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Unaddressed, such psychological scars can lead to depression and feelings of helplessness, and create a corrosive force in the lives of people suffering those effects.

This condition is widely referred to as post-traumatic stress disorder, or simply PTSD.

Times of disaster can cut people off from their natural world of interaction, creating feelings of being overwhelmed and an unsettling sense of depression. These elements can lay in wait for days, week, months or even years. But they are real.

In Galveston County, thousands of people are unable to either return to or live in their homes in a normal fashion. And to most, a home is a safe space, a place where you retreat to when the day is done or you need to unplug your mind. The challenges for children can be even more dire and unsettling as young emotions are less developed.

The World Health Organization regularly deals with the emotional challenges of disasters. Key contributors to the condition include family separation, loss of employment, concerns for safety, and a low level of familiarity with those helping or providing resources.

And if anyone remembers Abraham Maslow’s Theory of Human Motivation, these elements are rooted in the basic foundation of our basic needs.

This is not to say the outpouring of generosity from individuals, companies and organizations from across the nation in unneeded. On the contrary, they play an important role in the rebuilding of both the immediate and near-future needs of those impacted. And we thank them for opening their hearts.

But as a community, we need to understand there is something that cannot be trucked in from surrounding states. We must recognize the need to offer support and care to those who are in the crosshairs of this tragedy. For every truck filled with water, we will also need to understand those on the receiving end may need our help as they navigate this life-changing event.

Galveston County needs to recognize and take action to address the potential for this powerful symptom of natural disasters taking hold. Not doing so could further destroy the lives of people who unknowingly slip into a dark and dangerous place.

Leonard Woolsey: 409-683-5207; leonard.woolsey@galvnews.com

President & Publisher of The Galveston County Daily News.

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