How to recover from disaster and traumatic events

Earthquakes are unexpected and could be immensely destructive; being in one is a terrifying experience. People get separated from family members, and with fear of being killed or injured, days pass before getting information on their loved ones. Collapsed buildings, scenes of destruction and severely injured victims or even dead bodies add to traumatizing memories. Earthquakes are physically and emotionally difficult, particularly for people with disabilities or special needs. Since the initial earthquake on April 25, hundreds of quakes have been registered at a magnitude of 4 or above. These have incited widespread fear and uncertainty about the future.

Extreme stress response is being prolonged over weeks. In the aftermath, people may continue to encounter senses and feelings that remind - even years after  the earthquake. These traumatic reminders can bring on distressing mental images and thoughts yielding emotional and physical reactions. Common reminders include aftershocks, cracks in the wall, rumbling noises, crumbled buildings, smell of fire and smoke, memories of the place where they experienced the earthquake along with television, internet and radio news about earthquakes. There are strong evidences that the quakes are impacting on the mental health of people. Psychological damage is far from invisible: the number of suicides and attempted suicides are registered in the wake of disaster. It has also long been recognized that aid workers rushing to help after the disaster are not immune to emotional trauma. There are currently some 1.7 million children living in areas affected by the earthquake, and research shows that such natural disasters can lead to increased risks of mental health in young people, psychosocial services and support are urgently needed.

Do you need psychological help?

It’s not uncanny to be in distress after a disaster, however early pathologising of suffering may get in the way of healing and recovery. Most people complain about feeling low, loss of motivation, tiredness and lack of sleep. These symptoms agree with the International Classification of Diseases (ICD)-10 depression diagnostic criteria, which are used in clinical settings to diagnose depression. ICD-10 uses a list of 10 depressive symptoms that include persistent sadness or low mood, loss of interest or pleasure, fatigue or low energy, disturbed sleep, poor concentration or indecisiveness, low self-confidence, poor or increased appetite, suicidal thoughts or acts, agitation or slowing movements and guilt or self-blame. If individuals express these symptoms persistently for at least two weeks, they need to consult psychological support. Most people in affected areas have been struggling with these symptoms for weeks and in normal circumstances they would need medication. However, we know from research that in the aftermath of a natural disaster, psychologists armed with medication have little to contribute: survivors need to go through the natural grief process, they should be encouraged to talk about events and the majority will not develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), nor any other psychological disorder. 

Improve your mental and emotional health by taking care of yourself

In order to strengthen your mental and emotional health, it is important to pay attention to your own needs and feelings. Don’t let stress and negative emotions build up. If you take care of yourself, you will be better prepared to deal with challenges if and when they arise.

Volunteer: The meaning and purpose you find in helping others will enrich your life. Being useful to others and being valued for what you do can help build self-esteem.

Share your experiences and feelings

 Manage your stress levels: It is important to keep stress under control as it can affect   emotional and mental well being in a negative way.

Limit unhealthy mental habits like worrying Try to avoid negative thoughts about yourself and the world that drain your energy and trigger feelings of anxiety, fear and depression.

Enjoy the beauty of nature or art: A simple walk through a garden can lower blood pressure and reduce stress. The same goes for reading and listening to music.

Take care of proper nutrition:
Proper diet can counterbalance the impact of stress.

Improve mental and emotional health of your child

Spend time talking with your children: Their fears and concerns may need discussion time and you should remain open to answering new questions and providing helpful information.

Be a role model: Changes in living conditions can be extremely stressful for children. Remaining calm will be important during chaotic times.

Help children feel safe: This includes telling them what to do during an aftershock and explaining how you are keeping the family safe. This may need to be repeated many times.


You need psychological help

You need psychological help if you develop following feelings and behaviors over longer period of time

Inability to sleep

Feeling down, hopeless and helpless most of the time

Concentration problems  that are interfering with your home or work life

Using nicotine, food, drugs or alcohol to cope with difficult emotions

Negative or self-destructive thoughts or fears that you cannot control suicide

For psychological support and other queries, write to

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