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Mental Health in a Catastrophe – Will You Fall apart?

Mental Health in a Catastrophe – Will You Fall apart?.

This is a guest post by Happy Camper and entry for our non-fiction writing contest.

Planning ahead

Preppers have secured themselves in the knowledge that they intend for themselves and their families to be safe in a catastrophic event. Do you have a bunker, a bug out location or a bug in plan? The food, medication and sanitation that you have prepared are all for the benefit of our physical well-being.

It is wonderful that preppers are so organized for the items that they will have in a post apocalyptic scenario. But how prepared mentally are we for the items and relationships that will be changed or gone?

The key to maintaining a healthy mental environment is being mindful and aware that mental health is a major factor in preparing, a major factor during a SHTF event and even more so the key to rebuilding and moving forward in a recovery are healthy relationships and a healthy attitude and positive mental health.

The brain

Our brains are the most complex part of our bodies, it is the control center of intelligence, movement, interpretation, decisions and behavior. The most powerful tool that we can take into any situation is our mental wellbeing. Knowing the basics about human reactions and mob behavior could be a huge advantage in a catastrophic event, to be able to understand and anticipate human behaviors and reactions.

Getting to know our own mental well-being and the mental well-being of those around us is important. Any type of psychological trauma can cause the brain to respond in ways that are not expected and are certainly not convenient, psychological trauma can provoke the brain to respond by impairing the functions of behavior, thought control emotions and reasoning. Mental distress can also cause physical effects, including: fatigue, insomnia, nightmares, aches and pains, racing heartbeat, concentration difficulties.

Keeping a balanced mental state is individual to each one of us. What makes you happy? What keeps your relationships moving forward and stress free? What do you need to maintain mental clarity? Make a list of these things, discuss with your family how these things may be able to be maintained in a SHTF situation. Discuss any concerns openly.

After the event

What can cause mental distress? Unstable environments, physical or mental abuse, sexual abuse, separation from a loved one, medical or illness trauma, domestic violence, bullying etc.
The immediate and long term effects of catastrophic events, particularly on children need to be considered. Studies that have been done on children from war torn areas show that around 40% of children develop long term PTSD.

Symptoms that a person is likely to display that will indicate that they are in mental distress, may be evident immediately or not show for a unset period of time. The most common symptoms (as described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, AKA the DSM) are: being over emotional, fear, anxiety, depression, self-destructive behaviour and low self-esteem.

Imagine a scenario, that all of your physical preps have been successful. You have enough food to sustain you in the months ahead, any physical wounds are healing and you are feeling secure about the months ahead in regards to surviving. However you have no idea what to expect, your routine is unpredictable, nothing will be the same. Your children are asking you questions that you cant answer. Are you ready for that ? Or can anyone ever be ready for that ?

Is there any point to surviving physically if you and your family end up being mentally broken ?

All humans have needs that need to be fulfilled to maintain mental clarity and order. We need to be aware of our place in the hierarchy, we need to have a sense of independence and responsibility, we need to be mentally stimulated and maintain a mental strategy for the future, we need hope for the future and unity with our group / family or community.

Mental Preparedness suggestions

1. Is there a clear hierarchy and is each member aware of their place in the pack?
2. Each pack member needs to be confident and enjoy the tasks that they have been allocated.
3. A resolution strategy may be effective for group functioning.
4. There should be a basic reward system in place, this offers encouragement and pride.
5. Be aware of peoples mental limitations and phobias.
6. It is important to be aware of before, during and the aftermath, will each have is own set of issues and differences.
7. What personal and important items will be retained? Everyone needs comfort items and items that relate to our personal history.
8. Don’t undervalue anyone else’s personal items, they may have a particular sentimental value.
It is important to remember that some members of the group will get bored, be unwilling to participate or even become destructive (for example emotional children, teenagers or those who are mentally struggling).
9. Provisions for entertainment are very important, boredom can be very negative. The ability to play games for entertainment is invaluable and great for morale. Don’t forget to give compliments and appropriate physical contact (hand-shakes or hugs can be food for the soul)
10. Entertainment is individual and should be shared, adults taking time to play games with their children, reading together etc.
11. The acronym SAFE is used as a reminder for what people mentally need: Partially derived from ‘Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs’
S: Safety and freedom from being harmed
A: Access to basic needs, of food, water, shelter
F: Family and connections to others
E: Education, self Esteem, and Economic security

Suggested reading topics on Google:
Maslow’s model of motivation,
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders AKA the DSM,
Mindfulness and meditation,
Pack behaviours / social hierarchy,
Herd or mob mentality

UN warns CAR on brink of catastrophe – Africa – Al Jazeera English

UN warns CAR on brink of catastrophe – Africa – Al Jazeera English.

About 10,000 people are seeking shelter at the airport near the capital Bangui. [Reuters]
UN officials are warning the Security Council that Central African Republic is on the brink of a catastrophe, with half the population made homeless since ethnic warfare broke out.

UN political affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman told the council on Monday that about 2.2 million people throughout the country need assistance, about half the total population.

About half the people of Bangui have been driven from their homes, a total of about 513,000, he said. An estimated 100,000 people are seeking shelter at a makeshift camp at the airport near the capital.

The Central African Republic has been plunged into chaos as the country’s Christian majority seeks revenge against the Muslim rebels, who seized power in a coup in March. Fighting between Christian and Muslim militias intensified in December.

An attack on Bangui by the Christian militia calling itself the anti-Balaka on December 5 triggered heavy unrest in the capitol, Feltman said.

A report in late December by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon reported 600 deaths in Bangui in those attacks, and Feltman put the current total at “750 casualties” in the capital.

“The death toll outside Bangui is likely to be substantial,” he said. “Killings in Bangui and the rest of the country continue every day, and the population remains divided along religious affiliation,” Feltman said.

The UN Children’s Fund warned at the end of December, that children are being recruited into the militias, and verified the killings of at least 16 children since December 5, two of whom were beheaded.

In December the Security Council authorised a multinational African peacekeeping force, which is expected to increase its troop strength from about 2,500 to 3,500, to keep a lid on the violence. France sent in about 1,600 troops on December 9 to back them up.

A System Collapse Framework for Societies | 1913 Intel

A System Collapse Framework for Societies | 1913 Intel.

The Snow Avalanche Image

Snow Avalanche

During the good times the snow falls and slowly builds up. Without anyone noticing, the snow reaches a pre-collapse state. It is at this time that avalanches are born. The impossible becomes the inevitable.

The Arab Spring

The Arab Spring is an example of the snow avalanche concept as applied to societies.

Tarek al-Tayeb Mohamed Bouazizi was a Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire on 17 December 2010, in protest of the confiscation of his wares and the harassment and humiliation that he reported was inflicted on him by a municipal official and her aides. His act became a catalyst for the Tunisian Revolution and the wider Arab Spring, inciting demonstrations and riots throughout Tunisia in protest of social and political issues in the country. Source: Wikipedia.

How is it possible that a Tunisian fruit vendor could bring down governments through one act of defiance? It simply is not possible unless the countries involved were already in a pre-collapse state. The snow was ready to avalanche and just needed a trigger. The fruit vendor provided the trigger.

The Avalanche Concept Applied to Societies

Stability is not your friend. Controlled instability is your friend. Compare democracies and dictatorships: One has controlled instability – elections, and the other has only stability. The dictatorship model is more stable, until there is a revolution and everything breaks. Democracies avoid the revolutions by voting out the bums. Systems with controlled instabilities avoid the big avalanches.

While democracies use controlled instability to avoid revolutions, the same is not true in economics. Typically democratic governments suppress recessions in order to get reelected. This suppression process seeks to enhance economic stability. The elimination of controlled instability in economics pushes societies to the point of economic avalanche – a depression.

When is an avalanche likely?

First rule, moving from a stable state to avalanche state takes time. Time of stability is the most important factor in determining when the next avalanche will occur. Looking back in history will give us an idea of how long it takes before things break. For the US, that time is 80 to 100 years since the beginning of the last crisis. The last crisis period ran from 1925 to 1945. The next crisis period runs from 2005 to 2025. These periods are based on the research by two historians as told in The Fourth Turning.

Second rule, problems or cracks start to appear in society after a long period of time. Experts start to warn about instabilities or dangers on the horizon. Societies become more sensitive, and there are protests and/or riots.

Third rule, there must be a triggering event. However, this event does not need to be big as we saw with the Tunisian fruit vendor. Causality is not linear. Linear causality is where small things can only have a small impact.

Avalanches, forest fireseconomic crashes and wars work the same way. They all follow the same mathematical distribution in terms of collapses – the power law distribution. Who cares? Keep reading as I apply these concepts.

Mathematics of Collapse

Take a look at this little video about the mathematics of war.

Take a look at the graphs in the video. These are the same graphs as forest fires. Notice how the frequency (y-axis) versus size (x-axis) graph follows a straight line for both attacks in war and forest fires. Wars in total also follow the same graph.

The next graph shows attack frequency versus the size of the attack in the Iraq war.

The following graphs show forest fire frequency versus size of the fire.

The graphs between the Iraq war and forest fires look kind of similar, don’t they? They tend to form a straight line. Why is that?

Societies and forests move into the future in the same way. Each new day is heavily influenced by the past. And that is a positive feedback loop process. That feedback loop process causes collapses to be similar in both sets of graphs with both having a power-law distribution of collapses. You can treat societies and forests the same way in terms of collapses. If you suppress small collapses then you will get bigger collapses. If you suppress bigger collapses then you will get the mother of all collapses. If you suppress that collapse then you will sit on the edge of a cliff forever, or until you allow the collapse to happen. The probability of an extreme collapse (the black swan) is 10 to 20 times greater than you think. A society or forest becomes susceptible to a black swan (catastrophic fire, depression, major war, …) after a long period of stability. Use history to determine what “long period” means. For a snow avalanche, long period may mean months. For a forest or society, long period may mean 50 years or 100 years.

If societies follow a positive feedback loop process, then so do economies. Economic stability (suppressing collapses) leads to catastrophe. That’s why Japan has been stuck in the mud for the last 20 years. The West is now stuck with Japan at the edge of a cliff waiting for something to push them over.

Why is stability a bad thing?

During the good times, the bad stuff (bad ideas, bad decisions and corruption) grows along with the good. Small collapses help to eliminate some of the bad stuff before it gets too big. Suppressing all collapses means the bad stuff grows so big that only a huge crash will fix the problems. No crash equals no solution.


How can we tell when the bad stuff has become a real problem? In the next paragraph see how scientists figured out how to discover the rot developing in growing sandpiles until there was a complete collapse.

“To find out why [such unpredictability] should show up in their sandpile game, Bak and colleagues next played a trick with their computer.  Imagine peering down on the pile from above, and coloring it in according to its steepness.  Where it is relatively flat and stable, color it green; where steep and, in avalanche terms, ‘ready to go,’ color it red.  What do you see?  They found that at the outset the pile looked mostly green, but that, as the pile grew, the green became infiltrated with ever more red.  With more grains, the scattering of red danger spots grew until a dense skeleton of instability ran through the pile.  Here then was a clue to its peculiar behavior: a grain falling on a red spot can, by domino-like action, cause sliding at other nearby red spots.  If the red network was sparse, and all trouble spots were well isolated one from the other, then a single grain could have only limited repercussions. But when the red spots come to riddle the pile, the consequences of the next grain become fiendishly unpredictable.  It might trigger only a few tumblings, or it might instead set off a cataclysmic chain reaction involving millions.  The sandpile seemed to have configured itself into a hypersensitive and peculiarly unstable condition in which the next falling grain could trigger a response of any size whatsoever.”

The QE Sandpile | 1913 Intel

Without color-coding it’s a lot harder to see the rot. We have to rely on clues. Extreme problems in one or more areas of society after a long period of stability probably indicate that that society is in trouble. 9/11 was one clue. The financial collapse in 2008 was another clue. There is rot in our military. The US nuclear arsenal has been gutted. So America appears to be in trouble at this time.

About the Power Law Distribution

Find out a little more about the power law distribution. Did you ever wonder where the 80-20 rule comes from? Please meet the power law distribution.

The  – sometimes referred to as the , or the  – has drawn a great deal of attention lately as an alternative to the ‘normal’ (Gaussian) distribution (i.e, the bell curve). The power law has gained in popularity among more numerate intellectuals, policy makers, and business people because it seems to fit better with common sense than what we were told in Statistics 101: Extreme and rare events have a greater than expected impact; a few products, people, and websites seem to have the bulk of market share, wealth, and mindshare; etc.

The Econophysics Blog: Tyranny of the Power Law (and Why We Should Become Eclectic)

The power law distribution doesn’t fit everything which means outliers exist. However, it does a much better job than the normal distribution. For our purposes of trying to understand the real world better, the power law distribution provides a good foundation.

Collapse Framework for Societies

What follows is a framework for viewing collapses in society – economic collapse or war/revolution. I have essentially summarized the concepts I covered above.

1. Societies follow a positive feedback loop process. Each new day is heavily dependent on the past. This is similar to forests and sandpiles. The process never stops and collapses are impossible to prevent. One may only transform the size and timing of collapses.
2. Positive feedback loop processes are subject to self-organizing criticality. They will automatically move toward a pre-collapse state, then just collapse.
3. Collapses follow a power-law distribution. Outliers exist.
4. All collapses are the same. There is no difference (other than size) between a small collapse and a big collapse. Big collapses require longer to form and happen less often.
5. Collapse transformation: Collapse suppression will delay a collapse and make the resulting collapse bigger. Suppress small collapses and you will get bigger collapses. Suppress bigger collapses and you will get the mother of all collapses. Suppress that and you will sit on the edge of a cliff forever waiting to fall or be pushed over the edge. Think Japan.
6. Collapses are caused by the build-up of bad ideas, bad decisions and corruption. These things can spread to all corners of society.
7. War or revolution is just a collapse like an economic collapse. Only the form is different.
8. Collapse suppression leaves the original problems (bad ideas, bad decisions and corruption) in place giving them the ability to continue growing.
9. A collapse in one area could mean problems in other areas as well. For example, 9/11 could mean more than a terrorism problem. It could represent a sign of spreading problems into all corners of society.
10. The longer the time of stability means the longer (and bigger) the problems can grow. Time of relative stability is the most important criteria in determining when a large collapse is possible. History helps us determine which time frames are important.
11. When a system has reached a point where a small event can have a large impact then it is at a pre-collapse state or tipping point. Causality is not linear.
12. Big collapses (the outliers) may represent phase transitions where everything you know changes.
13. Black swans are outliers in a normal distribution which cause a phase transition.
14. Dragon-kings are outliers in a power-law distribution which cause a phase transition.
15. Examples of systems with a power-law distribution (outliers allowed): Forest fires, sandpile collapses, snow pile avalanches, earth quakes, financial market collapses, wealth, city size, serial killers, riots, attacks within war and wars.
16. In financial mathematics, the use of the normal distribution is forbidden. It assumes behavior is independent. In a crisis or collapse, market behavior is not independent as people start herding. Naturally this means in reality all financial mathematics uses the normal distribution. Were you wondering why these models blow up?
17. How to build a better economic model. The key here is to harness collapses.

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