Survivors experience a range of emotional and psychological effects in the aftermath of a disaster, which have no expiration date.

Anyone who has experienced the effects of a disaster knows resources and social supports for survivors can either help promote healing and recovery, or, if resources aren’t accessible or culturally sensitive, may also present obstacles and challenges.

Sharing your story is a powerful way to reflect on both the support you received and the challenges you faced or still may be facing. It is a way to shape your own narrative and provide a sense of hope to others who might find what you have learned useful to them. The following examples are important benefits to sharing your story:

  • Reframing one’s experience of a disaster and creating meaning
  • Expressing an experience in one’s own words as opposed to a media driven narrative
  • Validating the emotional impact that may be happening in the communities where the disaster occurred
  • Becoming a tool for group & community learning beyond the specific disaster, to other disaster populations.

Sharing your story is a personal choice. It is important that a survivor feels ready to share their story. When considering your own readiness, it is recommended that a survivor have enough distance from the date of the incident, usually 18 months or more, to share in a safe and intentional way. It is also recommended that a survivor have an active support system (loved ones, peer supporter, counselor) available to help process reactions.

The following guidelines will help you consider what is important for you to convey and what to expect once you have shared your story.


Identify what you want to share.

Decide what aspects of your story you may want to avoid or be cautious about discussing, and what you feel comfortable sharing. Getting clarity about this first will set the stage for an emotionally safe process.

Introduce yourself.

Help listeners get to know you by sharing a little bit about yourself. (Be mindful about sharing identifying information if you are not comfortable doing so). We all have lives that predated a disaster. Sharing a few details about who you are helps you remember that you are not defined by a disaster and can recover and also helps connect the reader to important elements of our common humanity.

Provide Context.

You may want to include basic information such as the type of disaster (i.e. Hurricane), the name of the disaster (i.e. Hurricane Katrina), and date of disaster (i..e.August 23, 2005). You may also include any details that you believe are important to help situate your story in time and place for the reader.

Prepare to tell your story safely and effectively.

In thinking about your experience, you may find yourself feeling activated before, during, or after the writing process. It may be difficult to find the words for what you experienced. Consider making a list of important moments regarding your recovery from the incident, in chronological order, and list the feelings associated with those moments. This may also include a few details about the incident. Avoid graphic details, and focus more on your feelings. By doing this you honor your experience and the reader is more likely to identify with what you have in common.

Share your experience of personal recovery.

Think about the most important thing you’d like your reader to know. You may consider the following questions as prompts for how to frame your experience:

  • What was the most difficult hurdle in your recovery?
  • Was there a specific moment or turning point where you realized the most difficult part was behind you and you could look ahead with hope for recovery
  • In the years since your experience, how do you feel you have grown and recovered?
  • How do you feel your ability or ways to cope with life’s stressful events have changed?

Share your own lessons learned.

Describe how you found help and hope, or what could have helped you. This step is important to helping others through your story, as it illustrates the value of finding coping skills that worked for you, connecting to support, and it provides resources or actions others can take.

Share resources.

Encourage people to call or text the Disaster Distress helpline. 1-800 985-5990. If you are experiencing a crisis, call the local crisis hotline (such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for those in the U.S.)

What to Prepare for After You Tell Your Story

Be ready for others to reach out to you.

Your story of hope and recovery has the power to affect and help other survivors. People may reach out to you with questions or to share their own recovery stories with you. This may be difficult if you are not used to discussing your lived experience with others. Identify what you feel ready to discuss with others, what your limits are, and how you want to communicate your boundaries to others.

Be armed with resources.

Have a variety of resources on hand to share with people that may be experiencing a crisis, are concerned about others, or seeking advice on disaster support for survivors. Encourage them to reach out to these resources and services, such as the Disaster Distress Helpline, 1-800 985-5990, the SAMHSA Resource Locator, and other local supports.

Utilize your personal support system.

After sharing your story, it may help to talk out your feelings, the stories you’ve heard, and any emotions you may have experienced with people that care about you and understand the nature and impact of your story and your work. Your support system can include a mental health professional, friends, family members, someone from your faith community, or colleagues.

If you feel ready to tell you story after reading this checklist, please go over to the Share Your Story page to submit your story.