Poll Finds Higher Rate of Emotional Distress Among Sandy Victims

By Brenda Flanagan

The tropical depression that spawned a deadly superstorm stressed coastal defenses past their breaking point. It also afflicted Sandy victims with an emotional storm.

“I cry for no reason whatsoever. I scream and yell at my husband because I’m just so frustrated,” said Gloria Garland.

“It’s really tough getting up every morning and trying to deal with complete limbo. You feel like you’re in some kind of science fiction nightmare,” Marty Garland said.

Gloria and Marty Garland haven’t lived in their Sea Bright home since Sandy roared ashore more than a year ago. It’s wrecked and Marty says they are, too.

“When it was 12 months and you had to take an accounting of what’s been going in — that’s when I mentally lost it. I just mentally crashed,” he said.

The Garlands participated in an ongoing Monmouth University poll, which asked Sandy victims if they felt emotionally distressed. Forty-seven percent answered yes. That’s four times the average rate of 12 percent reported by New Jersey residents as a whole.

“You know mental health issues really drive a lot about whether people can recover. It drives not just how they feel, but whether they can even get back to work,” said Patrick Murray.

Sixty-three percent of homeless Sandy victims report emotional distress compared to 35 percent for those who’ve managed to go back home. Homelessness affects all aspects of their lives.

“Those people, they can’t work and many are telling us their employment situation is worse and it makes it that much harder for them to get back on their feet,” said Murray.

The poll also shows people who earn more money tend to manage better emotionally. But it’s the delays that wear all disaster victims down.

“And then at about the six-month mark — this is with other disasters as well — that’s when people start to wane a little bit. Their coping mechanisms start to decrease and they start feeling that hopeless. That helplessness starts to creep in. They’re not getting assistance yet,” said clinical psychologist Dr. Christine Hatchard.

Sandy victims vented to State Sen. Steve Sweeney and other politicians. He’s touring shore towns, asking people what they need and promising to help.

“All of the uncertainty, not having answers, to me would be depressed and have a lot of concerns about my future,” Sweeney said. “We’ve learned a lot about the banking insurance industry, especially the insurance industry not responding to homeowners and businesses.”

He plans to hold legislative hearings. The Garlands plan to file appeals.

“And if it wasn’t for some of the meds I’m on, I don’t think I’d make it,” said Gloria Garland.

They don’t have health insurance, either.