PTSD lingers for some Houstonians 5 years after Hurricane Harvey

Hurricane Harvey was emotionally traumatic and had serious mental health impacts on many people in its path.

Researchers believe half of those in heavily affected areas suffer probable Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD, including their pets. Some of them are still suffering today.

RELATED: FOX 26 speaks with licensed therapist about growing mental health issue

Rebuilding homes while reliving memories of a massive storm like Hurricane Harvey can prompt terrifying feelings.

"PTSD can be diagnosed when you have the threat of severe harm, loss of life, or you witnessed this threat. So a hurricane certainly meets that level of exposure," explains Dr. Ron Acierno, the Executive Director of the Trauma and Resilience Center at UTHealth Houston.

It was tough, trying to survive or work through the storm. Former Harris County 911 operator, Janika Hayden says they scheduled a lot of extra staff to answer phones, but they could only do so much.

"We were getting backed up with calls, as well as HPD was getting backed up with calls, it was very chaotic," shares Janika. "With this job, your duty is to help people and we were trying, but it felt like no matter what, sometimes that my best wasn't enough."

RELATED: University of Houston highlighting city’s resilience during Hurricane Harvey

Thousands of people were flooding the phone lines, desperate for help. Meanwhile, it was also taking a toll on those taking the calls.

When many frantic victims couldn't get through to 911, they started calling TV stations. FOX 26's Digital Content Creator Carolina Sanchez stretched her job duties during the peak of the storm to answer phones.

"I could not help them, and they were very frustrated because you're the first person that they can reach," explains Carolina. She did what she could, navigating them through an app developed by the Cajun Navy to find a rescue team, but she wanted to do more.

"It's tough to live with knowing that you are so helpless in helping somebody who desperately needs it," says Carolina.

Her husband was concerned about her several months after the storm and encouraged her to seek counseling.

"FOX offered counseling after Harvey, but I just kept walking by and didn't seek help, because I thought I was okay," explains Carolina. "But, once I did get help and after several weeks of talking with my therapist, we finally got to the root of what was going on. Once I explained everything, started unleashing everything, all the emotional stuff that I was carrying, she said, 'This is … this is trauma, this is what you're going through, and that's something really heavy to carry,' and oh man the waterworks."

She was officially diagnosed with PTSD.

For some people, just being at home during a storm is difficult now. Almost all our viewers who commented on our social media post about this admit that driving in a storm is now more difficult than ever, and they always dread it. Some even try to avoid it.

Many children are still affected by Harvey. Some of them tell us they prefer to sleep in their parents' room after the hurricane. And many of them are much more scared of storms now than before.

RELATED: Houston nonprofit offering free PTSD counseling services for veterans, their family

Texas Children's Hospital recognized this and established the "Harvey Resiliency and Recovery Program" and treated children up to four years after the storm.

Even our four-legged friends suffered, devastating for those who depend on service animals. "It totally freaked him out, and he's having panic attacks and he was diagnosed with PTSD," says a man who is blind and depended on his dog, Jennings, to help him get around.

Anne Deering's beloved dog Baylor was by her side during the storm. Now her veterinarian provides sedatives on stormy days, after Harvey.

"She is shaking uncontrollably, and we just feel so bad for her. We want her to have relief from that anxiety. She was two years old at the time of Harvey and was never scared of rain before then. Maybe she felt my stress during the storm when we got 15 inches of rain in an hour," states Anne.


It's often hard to get pets over the fear, but Dr. Ron Acierno with UTHealth Houston wants everyone to know, it is possible for people to overcome PTSD from a storm.

"We might want them practicing going out to their driveway sitting in their car during the rainstorm, getting used to it, and then maybe driving around the block if that's safe," encourages Dr. Acierno. "Getting used to it and then maybe driving to someone's house at that safe until you get used to it. You do this repeatedly till it's a little boring. And that's how you know you're getting better."

Baby steps, but hope, that with practice, it can get better.

For more information on PTSD from hurricanes, click here. To learn more about getting help for PTSD, click here.