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Every year, weather-related disasters ravage communities across the United States, with scenes traumatic and, increasingly, familiar.

Washington is wildfire country, where fires in recent years have claimed the lives of firefighters and others, and turned hundreds of homes worth tens of millions of dollars to rubble. We endured the worst fire season in state history during the smokeageddon of 2018; four years before that came the Carlton Complex fire, so big its burn scar could be seen from space. That was the single largest fire in state history — until a year later, when several large fires known as the Okanogan Complex Fire exploded into the countryside.

And this summer, not only are Pacific Northwest forests poised for conflagration as Washington and Oregon face the nation’s worst fire forecasts. On top of it all, there’s COVID-19.  Around the nation, people have faced deadly wildfires, historic floods, catastrophic hurricanes. Since 2010, the U.S. has experienced 37 wildfires, hurricanes and floods causing at least $1 billion in damage each. That’s more than any previous decade since 1980, when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration started tallying the events.

These disasters also take a toll on mental health. Researchers say rates of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, skyrocket following disasters. One survey of Hurricane Katrina survivors found that one-third had mood disorders, and suicidal thoughts more than doubled. Six months after Hurricane Maria, 40 percent of Puerto Ricans showed signs of PTSD, another survey estimated. Many scientific studies suggest similar outcomes after individual wildfires and floods.

Still, little is known about how widespread these issues may be, or how effectively federal, state and local agencies respond to the mental health needs of disaster survivors. There’s even less information about how the spread of the new coronavirus affects people who’ve lived through previous disasters. That’s why we want to hear your story.

The Center for Public Integrity, Columbia Journalism Investigations, InvestigateWest and nine other newsrooms around the country are investigating the mental health needs of disaster survivors and how the government is responding. Are you still trying to rebuild your life after a natural disaster? How has the coronavirus pandemic impacted your efforts?

If you have been affected by a wildfire, hurricane or flood in the last 10 years, or if you are a mental health professional studying disasters or working with survivors in that period, you can help by filling out the form below. A better understanding of how disasters impact survivors could assist public and private entities preparing for and responding to future emergencies.

            • This survey will take about 15 minutes.
            • You can choose whether to allow a reporter to contact you for more information. We will not contact you if you indicate that is your preference.
            • We will not publish what you tell us in this survey without your permission. All personal information is confidential.

Sally Deneen contributed to this report.  This story was produced in partnership with Columbia Journalism Investigations, the Center for Public Integrity and InvestigateWest.  This story was funded in part by the Sustainable Path Foundation.

If you have been emotionally affected by a disaster and wish to seek confidential support, you can call the federal Disaster Distress Helpline at 800-985-5990 and speak with a professional trained in crisis counseling. 

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