Studies show decline in mental health following major hurricanes like Michael

PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - The destruction is evident--destroyed homes, fallen trees, families left with nothing. Michael may have passed, but for many, a storm is still brewing inside.

According to a study in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, participants with probable serious mental illness doubled and more than 40 percent reported PTSD following Hurricane Katrina.

Director of Business Development for Emerald Coast Behavioral Hospital, Craig Segrest, says Panama City's suicide rate ranked third in the state before Hurricane Michael, but now the issue of mental health has magnified following the storm.

Local resident Leon Seabrooks says it's a big issue, "There is a serious problem here. The cameras are gone, FEMA is gone, American Red Cross is gone. There are few people that are left so the elevation of stress went up by the time these people packed up and left."

Often times taking the first step to find help can be the most difficult part, but Dr. Royce Gray of Emerald Coast Behavioral Hospital says suppressing your emotions can create worse repercussions in the long run.

He added "Thinking that, you know, 'I don't need assistance I'm just gonna tough it out' and in some instances, that's not the best thing to do because it does allow symptoms to continue to fester and possibly worsen."

Gray says depression symptoms to keep an eye out for include decreased interest in things, negative thoughts about yourself and feeling guilty, decreased energy, difficulty concentrating and sleeping, and changes in appetite.

Hurricane Michael may have blown away homes and objects, but Panama City native Kirsty Evans thinks one thing still remains.

"I really hope that people can hold on to hope and hold on to the idea that there will be a better time," she said.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues they can contact Emerald Coast Behavioral Hospital at 850-481-0306 or the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).