Thursday Sep 26, 2019
Tuesday’s earthquake in Pakistan’s northeast killed 39 people and left more than 600 injured. It further damaged dozens of home, shops and buildings in the mountainous region. While the reconstruction and rehabilitation work continues in the region, one aspect often overlooked by state agencies is the mental health of the battered and traumatized survivors.
Geo.tv talks to Sana Wasiq, a mental health professional in Lahore, about the psychological therapy survivors require and how the government can help.
Natural disasters can be traumatizing for any age group. However, the youth is the most affected by such calamities. The post-traumatic stress symptoms last from anywhere between a few days to a lifetime, the latter being associated with poor life outcomes in terms of career, health and overall quality of life.
According to research, the severity of the trauma depends on a number of characteristics, for example, the age, gender, exposure to the event, severity of the event, parent-child relationship, socioeconomic status, resource loss, loss of a loved one, social supports etc. Thus children and adults respond to trauma in a variety of ways, ranging from having debilitating mental health to increased resilience. Anybody going through the traumatic incident is at a greater risk of developing psychopathologies like anxiety and panic disorders, depressive symptoms, phobias, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The daily life of a person after a traumatic event is usually affected a great deal. Some of the potential challenges may include, but are not limited to, the following: finding it hard to focus on the task at hand or complete their work, feeling overwhelmed dealing with the mixed emotional states (sad, angry, depressed), having flashbacks or frightful dreams about the event, disturbances in eating and sleeping patterns, attention-seeking behaviors may sprout up especially in children, isolating themselves or getting over clingy or over-dependent, having flashbacks of the event or indulging in overthinking about the calamity and associated damage, complete avoidance and denial that something even happened, regressing academically and personally, lack of interest and withdrawal in social situations, staying in one emotional state for an extended period of time like anger, sadness, grief, fear and having difficulty adjusting to life after the traumatic event attributed to loss of a material possession or loss of a loved one
Dealing with a traumatic event can be difficult. Some immediate interventions, however, may prove to be helpful:
1. Talking openly and honestly about the incident instead of avoiding this conversation because often the unknown is more frightening.
2. Reassuring the person and letting them know they are safe. In case of children, extra encouragement or special attention can do wonders.
3. Validating the loss that someone has had, and supporting them through that hard time. Telling them that the healing process will take time.
4. Going back into the routine slowly and gradually, building it up instead of pushing yourself into it.
5. Relax and take time out for yourself and your family to do some grounding activities that can help you all, through that shared trauma e.g. going for a walk.
6. Allowing the other person to express, because sharing feelings is an important part of the process. Again, with children be more encouraging and supportive.
7. Keep family roles clear. Be mindful that each person needs to process the trauma and one person is not overburdened with the responsibility of all.
How can the state help survivor’s cope with the traumatic event?
Working as a school counsellor and mental health professional, I am a huge advocate for counselling and interventions especially starting off from a very young age.
In this regard, the government could help provide support, by creating awareness videos about important mental health topics, directed towards both children and adults. Just the way we respond to medical emergencies, with ambulances equipped for medical aid, there should be dedicated teams working towards psychological health and first aid services for survivors of such traumatic events. Policy level changes like employing school counsellors at all school and university levels may also aid this process of getting help and support thus addressing this mental health gap.
In a country like Pakistan where we are often faced with natural catastrophes and traumatic incidents, having the government’s support could prove to be an important step forward in destigmatizing the taboo around mental health issues.