Thousands displaced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita are experiencing their first holiday season since the storm, and many may face additional emotional distress during this time of year. “It’s not just the trauma that people are dealing with,” says Chicago psychiatrist Carl Bell, MD. “They’re mourning—grieving because they’ve lost their way of life.”

The holidays may be especially difficult for those whose social connections—neighbors, friends, coworkers and family—were severed, and children are particularly vulnerable. “They’re more fearful and may even think they’re somehow responsible,” says Annelle Primm, MD, MPH, of the American Psychiatric Association. Families can try making up for lost traditions by starting new ones. “Try attending a new church, visiting new people, make an adventure out of it,” suggests Bell.

If an evacuee is having nightmares or flashbacks of traumatic events, he or she may be experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which can occur after a life-threatening event. If untreated, PTSD can lead to lifelong conditions like depression, anxiety and insomnia. Professional help is available through:

American Psychiatric Association (888.357.7924;
Helps locate therapists in your area.

National Association of Black Social Workers (202.589.1850;

Offers a black perspective on Katrina’s impact and how to help provide relief.

National Mental Health Association (800.969.6642;
Offers specific advice on coping with the emotional aftermath of the storms