April 2011 will go down in meteorological history as one of the most active and deadly months for tornadoes ever. The month began with an outbreak of more than 100 twisters between Oklahoma (OK) and West Virginia (WV). It ended with the devastation in the city and suburbs of Tuscaloosa, Alabama (AL), where more than 220 people lost their lives.
In between and shortly after those shocking, widespread natural disasters, northeastern North Carolina (NC), central and western Virginia (VA), and even our own area saw numerous tornadoes cause more than 30 deaths and hundreds of injuries in Colerain, NC, Gloucester, VA, and Pulaski, VA.
But even as wounds begin to heal, friends and family members are laid to rest, debris is cleared and rebuilding and recovery begins, another problem may loom for many tornado survivors: post-traumatic stress disorder. Left untreated, PTSD can make it difficult for people to overcome the tragedies they witnessed or lived through. Individuals who suffered brain injuries and head trauma are at particular risk for developing the condition.
As evidence of how a traumatic event such as a tornado can cause lingering mental and physical health problems, one need look no further than the experience of Suffolk, VA, resident Larry Herrin, who rode out the 2008 Suffolk, VA, tornado in a pickup truck.
Herrin told the Daily Press that for a long time after the ordeal, he felt depressed and needed three months of psychotherapy before coming to terms with his own survival, the loss of his family home in the storm and becoming nervous every time the skies clouded over.
Anyone who finds themselves in a similar state of mental agitation and physical ill health in the wake of the deadly twisters of April 2011 should seek the help they need as soon as possible. There is no need to become a victim of the natural disaster twice.
The same goes for everyone who believes they have developed PTSD as the result of suffering an injury or losing a spouse, child, parent or loved one in an accident. Numerous resources for people struggling to overcome traumatic experiences and grief over the death of a loved one exist in and around Norfolk. Good places to begin looking for mental health services, grief counseling, support groups and even just a sympathetic ear and referrals to further assistance include the following:
- Norfolk Community Services Board (each city and county in Virginia has a similar agency)
- American Red Cross of Southeastern Virginia
- Norfolk Department of Health — Community Services
- Hampton VA Medical Center
- Hampton Roads Grief Counseling and Bereavement Support
About the Editors: The Shapiro, Cooper, Lewis & Appleton personal injury law firm, which has offices in Virginia (VA) and North Carolina (NC), edits the injury law blogs Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard and Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as pro bono services.