Will the power go out? How long will the food and water last? How bad is it going to get?
Hurricane season is here, and Tampa Bay residents may find themselves asking these questions over and over again during the six-month season — especially when it peaks in August through October. While the region hasn’t suffered a direct hit since the 1921 Tampa Bay hurricane, residents never know what the Gulf of Mexico or Atlantic has in store for them.
Experts say the threat of flooding and property damage — on top of COVID-19 — can create significant stress, particularly for those with a history of anxiety and depression.
But just like you can get your home ready for a storm, you can also take steps to protect your mental health.
Here are four ways you can fortify yourself during hurricane season:
Get ready for the storm now
Don’t wait until the last minute to get your home ready, check for your evacuation zone and look for the closest evacuation shelters. You should also map exit routes in advance and assemble and back up important documents and photos online. Make sure you have a 30-day supply of medication and seven days of food and water per person. (Don’t forget to get your pet ready, too.) The Tampa Bay Times hurricane prep guide (tampabay.com/hurricane) can help you get ready.
It doesn’t cost a lot of money to get ready for a storm, so don’t let that stress you out. You can back up your important documents and photos using free cloud services and write in advance a list of valuable possessions you’ll want to take with you. And remember, evacuation shelters are free and also provide meals.
“People often feel much better when they have plans of action. Where anxiety really spikes is when you’re caught off guard,” said Clara Reynolds, president and CEO of the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay.
Don’t obsessively check weather updates
You can only be so informed. Once you’re done with your hurricane preparations, repeatedly checking the news or refreshing social media feeds for the latest updates will only make you overthink a situation you cannot control, Reynolds said.
Identify a trustworthy source for tracking the storm and check for updates at predetermined times in the day. Reynolds suggests spending the rest of that time disconnecting from the internet and focusing on calming activities, such as reading or playing board games, to take your mind off the weather.
Check on the kids
For children who find comfort in following routine, the uncertainty of an oncoming storm may induce anxiety. That’s okay, Reynolds said, just make sure children know they aren’t alone.
”Talk about the fact that you’re scared or anxious so your little person knows that those feelings are normal,” Reynolds said.
Remember to get them ready for a storm, too. For babies that means getting their supplies ready: diapers, blankets, wipes, baby food, clean bottles and formula. (Even if you breastfeed, bring a week’s worth of powdered formula, just in case.)
Older children will also need clothes, kid-friendly canned goods and things to do, like books, cards, board games or paper and markers to keep them occupied.
Reach out to a mental health professional
If you feel overwhelmed during a storm, you can still get help.
The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has a 24/7 Disaster Distress Helpline and crisis counselors available to anyone affected by a natural or manmade disaster.
English and Spanish speakers can call or text the helpline at 1-800-985-5990 or go to disasterdistress.samhsa.gov. The deaf and hard of hearing can connect directly with someone who uses American Sign Language 24/7 by clicking the “ASL Now” button at disasterdistress.samhsa.gov or calling 1-800-985-5990 from their video phone. The helpline can also connect callers with counselors in more than 100 languages through interpreters.
Trained specialists are available to talk callers through emotional distress, connect them with local resources or answer general questions about disaster preparation. Callers will find out how to recognize stress, how it affects individuals and families and give tips for healthy coping.
Floridians make up 10 percent of the helpline’s call volume during hurricane season, said agency spokesperson Christopher Garrett.
If you need help
- If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, contact the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay by dialing 211 or by visiting crisiscenter.com. You can also reach out to the 24–hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255; contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741 or online using crisistextline.org; or chat with someone online at suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
- Veterans can call the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay’s veteran support hotline at 1-844-693-5838 or visit myflvet.com. The National Veteran Crisis Hotline can provide help 24 hours a day by calling 1-800-273-8255 and pressing 1, texting 838255 or via online chat at veteranscrisisline.net.
Mental health resources
- The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration offers crisis counselors 24/7 during natural or manmade disasters. English and Spanish speakers can call or text 1-800-985-5990 or go to disasterdistress.samhsa.gov. Interpreters are available for more than 100 languages. The deaf and hard of hearing can connect directly with someone who uses American Sign Language 24/7 by clicking the “ASL Now” button at disasterdistress.samhsa.gov or calling 1-800-985-5990 from their video phone.
- The Crisis Center of Tampa Bay specialists can provide immediate emotional support to callers or connect them with more than 3,000 community resources, from food to counseling to medical transportation. Call 211 day or night, visit crisiscenter.com or fill out the online help form at crisiscenter.com/get-help/.
- Eco-anxiety is defined as “chronic fear of environmental doom” and can lead to anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. To find a climate-aware therapist, visit: climatepsychology.us/climate-therapists
- To find Black female therapists, visit: therapyforblackgirls.com.
- Learn to help others with mental health and substance use issues at: mentalhealthfirstaid.org
Domestic violence shelters
- Hillsborough County: Call or text The Spring of Tampa Bay’s 24-hour crisis line at 813-247-7233 or visit thespring.org. The Talk to You line is 813-248-1050.
- Pasco County: Contact Sunrise of Pasco County via its 24-hour hotline at 888-668-7273 or 352-521-3120, or go online to sunrisepasco.org.
- Pinellas County: Contact Community Action Stops Abuse, or CASA, by calling the 24-hour hotline at 727-895-4912, texting casa-stpete.org/chat or visiting casapinellas.org. The Talk to You line is 727-828-1269.
• • •
2022 Tampa Bay Times hurricane guide
IT’S HURRICANE SEASON: Get ready and stay informed at tampabay.com/hurricane
RISING THREAT: Tampa Bay will flood. Here’s how to get ready.
DOUBLE-CHECK: Checklists for building all kinds of hurricane kits
PHONE IT IN: Use your smartphone to protect your data, documents and photos
SELF-CARE: Protect your mental health during a hurricane
• • •
Rising Threat: A special report on flood risk and climate change
PART 1: The Tampa Bay Times partnered with the National Hurricane Center for a revealing look at future storms.
PART 2: Even weak hurricanes can cause huge storm surges. Experts say people don’t understand the risk.
PART 3: Tampa Bay has huge flood risk. What should we do about it?
INTERACTIVE MAP: Search your Tampa Bay neighborhood to see the hurricane flood risk