What are some of the phases people go through after a disaster?
Disaster Relief mental health specialists have identified emotional phases that survivors experience following a disaster. Awareness of these phases can assist the public health disaster worker to understand and support the coping style used by survivors as they go through recovery. Different types of humor are used or avoided in each of these phases. Note that these phases are descriptive and not normative. Survivors may move back and forth between phases as circumstances change. An understanding of the humor used in each of these phases will help the worker support the use of humor as a coping strategy.
The Heroic Phase, occurs at the time of the impact and immediately after. At this time, much energy is spent helping others survive and recover, altruism is prominent and, if there is any humor, it is spontaneous and often not considered very funny to an outsider. It is used to relieve tension and overcome fear. For example: Two hikers, caught on the coast trail of Kauai when the hurricane struck, sang the theme song from Gilligan's Island. They kept up their spirits and dispelled their anxiety by reframing the situation in a comical format.
The Honeymoon Phase lasts from one week to six months. It is the phase of recovery optimism, where survivors feel supported by relief efforts, and feel a joy in being alive. They deny any negative emotions or difficulties. The humor is positive and upbeat. It is humor that laughs at the absurdity of the situation without a lot of anger. Examples are T-shirts with, "Landscaped by Iniki" or "House for sale -- best deal of the century."
The Disillusionment Phase lasts from two months to two years, although I believe it can start as early as four days post-disaster. It is a time of grieving and feelings of disappointment, anger and resentment, as agencies and community groups become less involved and survivors rebuild their lives. Survivors feel isolated, angry and pessimistic. The disillusioned survivor is bitter and can easily be offended by attempts at humor. Aggressive humor expresses powerlessness through satire, ridicule and irony aimed at disaster workers and others in power. A T-shirt in Florida after Hurricane Andrew said, "I survived Hurricane Andrew, but FEMA is killing me" (FEMA is the Federal Emergency Maintenance Association.) During this phase, joking from anyone perceived as an outsider, even disaster workers, is not appreciated by survivors and can be easily misinterpreted.
The Reconstruction Phase may last for several years. It is a time of rebuilding and recovery. Humor returns slowly and may reflect a sense of community. It can acknowledge collective fears, goals, problems, acceptance and adaptation to change.
Below are some resources you can refer to if you are going or helping someone go through any of the phases I mentioned.