PTSD from Hurricane Harvey May Be Behind Spike in Murders in Houston: Mayor

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People walk down a flooded street as they evacuate their homes after the area was inundated with flooding from Hurricane Harvey on August 28, 2017 in Houston Getty

A sudden rise in Houston's murder rate could be tied to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) caused by Hurricane Harvey, the Texan city's mayor has said.

The city recorded 269 murders in 2017, down about 11 per cent, compared to the last two years. However, in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, a Category 4 storm that tore through Texas starting August 25, Houston saw a rise of nearly 15 per cent in homicides.

Houston had experienced a sharp drop in murders in the month of August, before the numbers started spiking again in the wake of the hurricane.

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People walk down a flooded street as they evacuate their homes after the area was inundated with flooding from Hurricane Harvey on August 28, 2017 in Houston Getty

"From September through December 2017, there were 104 murders in the city compared to 91 during the same period in 2016, representing a nearly 15 per cent increase," Mayor Sylvester Turner said, according to Houston Public Media, a service of the University of Houston.

Turner suggested the rise could be linked to PTSD from the devastation and destruction wrought by Harvey in August.

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The mayor has ordered police and other city departments to investigate into the rise in murders in the final months of 2017.

Turner said first responders are often "first mental health responders" and has "tasked my staff with pulling together all pertinent data, which can document this additional challenge to our already taxed services."

"The departments working on this include police, fire, as well as health," he said. "We're also reaching out to Harris County Health, mental health and the sheriff's department."

The mayor said he will use the data to inform a request for additional state and federal funding to tackle PTSD tied to Harvey and future incidences like it.

He also credited the Houston Police Department for 2017's overall decline in homicides and praised emergency crews for improving their responsiveness despite a lack of resources.

The mayor's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mental illnesses like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), chronic depression, anxiety and addiction are commonly reported weeks and months after a traumatic event. In the case of Hurricane Katrina, nearly half of survivors suffered from some form of mental health distress after the storm subsided, according to a 2012 study in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. After Hurricane Sandy, more than 20 percent of residents reported PTSD, 33 percent reported depression and 46 percent reported anxiety.

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Many were forced to flee their homes and take shelter after flood waters from Hurricane Harvey inundated the city on August 29, 2017 in Houston, Texas Getty

The mental health impacts of a major disaster such as Harvey have been widely noted. Mental health issues like PTSD, chronic depression, anxiety and addiction are commonly reported weeks and months after a traumatic event, Mental Health First Aid USA says on its website.

After Hurricane Katrina, nearly half of survivors suffered from some form of mental health distress once the storm subsided, according to a 2012 study in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, more than 20 percent of residents reported PTSD, 33 percent reported depression and 46 percent reported anxiety.

The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs has also warned of the effects of PTSD caused by natural disasters.

"Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria received significant attention in the U.S. for their size, strength, and destructiveness," the department has said on its website.

"Hurricanes can cause life threat, bereavement, loss of physical property, financial hardship, and ongoing stressors as people work to put their lives back together."

Given the damage and ongoing disruption that can follow a major hurricane or similar weather disaster, the department says it "is not surprising that almost everyone has symptoms in the immediate aftermath."

"The initial relief to be alive may be followed by distress, fear and anger," the Department of Veterans Affairs says.

"Disaster survivors may find it hard to stop thinking about what happened, have trouble sleeping, or feel keyed up or on edge. For most people those reactions will lessen over the first few weeks after the hurricane. For those who lost a loved one, were injured, or were forced to relocate, those reactions may be more intense and longer-lasting."

The department cited ongoing causes of stress including dealing with bereavement, being unable to return to homes, having to rebuild, "which takes money, time materials and workers," having to take in relatives or friends while they look for alternative housing, being put out of work or being unable to return to work, new physical health problems caused by the incident, as well as others as factors that could play a role in exacerbating PTSD symptoms.

Just before December, tens of thousands of Houston residents were reported to be lacking stable housing three months after the storm made landfall,with many living in trailers, tents and shelters, according to the Houston Chronicle.

More than 22,000 of those reported to be without a home were children, while some 47,000 victims of the hurricane were being housed in hotel rooms paid for by the federal government.

2017's Atlantic hurricane season was considered hyperactive and proved to be a deadly and significantly destructive season, with 17 named storms. It ranked alongside 1936 as the fifth most active recorded season since records began in 1851.

PTSD from Hurricane Harvey May Be Behind Spike in Murders in Houston: Mayor | U.S.