When Hurricane Florence made landfall in coastal North Carolina on Friday morning, some 20,000 residents had evacuated from their home and were taking refuge in 157 shelters, according to Governor Roy Cooper. “We’ve spent the last week telling people to evacuate. Now we’re working very hard to save lives,” Cooper said Friday in an interview with NPR. In the days since, some of those evacuees have returned to their home, but the total number of people in the state still in shelters was estimated on Tuesday to be around 10,000.
For families who end up displaced from their home due to mandatory evacuation, fear of unsafe conditions, or actual unsafe conditions, the immediate inconvenience of being away from their bed and belongings is just the beginning of the ordeal. Several studies published in the past 20 years have shown a link between exposure to a hurricane and increased symptoms of PTSD and depression. Other research has linked displacement specifically to higher levels of PTSD and depression. Newer research, though, clarifies that some kinds of displacement can lead to better mental-health outcomes than others.
A study published earlier this year in the Journal of Emergency Management found that among New York City–area residents displaced by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, “participants who were able to stay with friends or family had 48 percent decreased odds of experiencing PTSD symptoms as compared to those who were displaced and stayed in a shelter.” The study goes on to note that any displacement from a natural disaster has a negative impact on mental health—but displacement to the home of a loved one or a familiar person can lessen the traumatic effects associated with having to leave or abandon one’s own home. (As the lead researcher, Rebecca Schwartz, an associate professor at the Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra University, clarified in an email, “displaced” in this study meant spending at least one night away from one’s home.)