Commentary: Struggling to cope after Harvey? There’s help for that too


As Hurricane Harvey hit Texas a couple weeks ago, I visited the Delco Center to spend time with evacuees who were facing an unknown but excruciating loss.

I talked with a young woman who was there with her children and mother — but she didn’t know where her dad was. He’d stayed behind. When we visited, she hadn’t heard from him and was frightened about what might have happened. She worried about what, if anything, she and her family would return to.

Then, there was the father who was cradling his 5-week-old son and was concerned about supporting his family and what he’d need to do to recover.

COMMENTARY: Texas kids merit talks on rainy day fund, special session.

A group of children sat on the concrete floor watching movies projected on a wall. I returned later with rugs and pillows to make their space a little more comfortable, along with books, games and jumping ropes, so that they’d have some activities to pass the time. Every kid’s routine, even school attendance, was in disarray.

The Delco Center was filled with many fearful, anxious people whose lives had been completely upended by a disaster. Of course, they were only a small portion of those facing uncertain and difficult futures.

For those who lived through Harvey and its aftermath, this storm is likely to become the “before and after” for their lives.

Research shows most people who live through a disaster recover fully, but some will develop mental health issues, especially post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression.

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, researchers determined that 30-50 percent of all survivors suffered from PTSD and 36 percent of Katrina-affected children showed serious emotional disturbances. In addition, a post-Katrina survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that 25 percent of respondents lived with someone who needed mental health counseling, though fewer than 2 percent received it.

CONTINUING COVERAGE: Harvey’s wrath takes psychological toll on survivors.

The data from Katrina reminds us that Harvey’s survivors will need attention and care far into the future. Mental health issues tend to be underreported in the immediate aftermath because such symptoms are typically not expressed for weeks or months after a traumatic event.

As we shelter our coastal neighbors affected by Harvey, I’m proud to support the work of our local affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. NAMI Austin provides free classes and support groups for individuals and families living with mental health issues and offers no-cost mental health trainings and presentations in schools, workplaces and faith communities. Their work is changing the way our community talks about and addresses mental health throughout the year, and in times of disaster.

In coordination with other nonprofit organizations, NAMI Austin is serving as a source of hope and help as our community assesses the mental and emotional needs of our coastal neighbors, offering the best of its resources to assist the vulnerable populations of adults and children impacted by Hurricane Harvey.

On Saturday, Sept. 23, I’m serving as the Honorary Walk Chair for NAMI Austin’s 12th annual NAMIWalks, the largest event promoting mental health awareness in Central Texas. Join me as we celebrate the wellness our community creates when we encourage people to talk openly about mental health, seek help when needed and access the free mental health programs NAMI Austin offers.

FOLLOW US ON TWITTER: Viewpoints delivers the latest perspectives on current events.

Right now, we’re focusing on the physical needs of our coastal communities. There are buildings to clean, brush to clear, roads to fix and roofs to repair. Organizations like NAMI Austin remind us not to forget the long-term emotional and mental health needs of our neighbors as well.

Watson, of Austin, represents Senate District 14.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Opinion

Commentary: Austin’s plastic bag ban is rubbish. Go check the landfill
Commentary: Austin’s plastic bag ban is rubbish. Go check the landfill

As the Texas Supreme Court will soon make its decision regarding the legality of plastic bag regulations in Texas, this is a good time to revisit the arguments used to promote plastic bag bans. A review of the data shows that plastic bag regulations don’t reduce litter overall — and, in fact, they incentivize products that have far greater...
Opinion: How Trump gets into your bed

It’s not every day we start our discussion of current events with the president’s sex life. Well, actually, it’s gotten to be pretty frequent. But today we’re going to talk less about what Donald Trump does in bed and more about his efforts to interfere with other people’s intimate affairs. “When I ran for office...
Opinion: Trump is proving to be most pro-life president in history

WASHINGTON — President Trump’s critics were apoplectic last week when the president referred to MS-13 gang members as “animals.” Of course, no one should be dehumanized. Yet many of the same people expressing outrage that Trump would dehumanize vicious gang members have no problem dehumanizing innocent, unborn children. Trump...
Commentary: With shootings and small checks, why would anyone teach?
Commentary: With shootings and small checks, why would anyone teach?

The optimism of graduation season was mixed this year with the tragedy of another school shooting, this time in Santa Fe, Texas. Among the 10 victims were two teachers. While we mourn the loss of our nation’s youths to school shootings, we should also wonder how the prevalence of gun violence will impact college graduates’ decision to enter...
Commentary: Don’t leave it to just veterans to honor America’s fallen
Commentary: Don’t leave it to just veterans to honor America’s fallen

What are you planning to do this Memorial Day? What is the day for? Why was it created? Despite a long tradition of public promises that those who give their lives fighting for their families, cities and countries will live on in communal memory, human hearts and minds can stand only so much. Memories fade. When our society does not bear the burdens...
More Stories