"Survivor Syndrome" a Tsunami Aftermath

Indian Episcopate Warns of Trauma

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NAGAPATTINAM, India, JAN. 10, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Many survivors of the Dec. 26 tsunami in the southern Indian coastal areas are exhibiting a growing sense of guilt, depression and even suicidal tendencies, say relief workers.

Echoing this concern, the news service of the Catholic bishops’ conference of India warns that the inhabitants of villages devastated by the tsunami have started to report symptoms of «survivor syndrome,» such as sleeplessness, angry outbursts, loss of appetite, and difficulty in concentration.

The killer wave, triggered by a massive earthquake off western Sumatra, hit hardest in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and Thailand. The death toll from the disaster has topped 150,000. It left 500,000 injured and more than 5 million people without basic services.

To deal with survivors’ psychological trauma, the Indian government sent a team of 10 psychiatrists to the affected areas, the Indian Catholic News Service reported. The dead in the area are more than 15,000.

Psychologists say that survivors who witnessed the tragic death of their children and spouses are suffering serious traumas that might lead them to suicide.

Nagapattinam is one of the most affected districts of the state of Tamil Nadu. One of its inhabitants, K. Vellankanni, is a case in point. She held her four daughters together, in an effort to escape the powerful waves, but in the end failed. All four were snatched from her hands.

Alone, on the shore, 10 days after the disaster, she wailed: «I gave birth to four daughters. I could not even save one of them.»

In the same district, the waters snatched away 22-year-old Vanitha’s 2-month-old daughter from her arms. The child’s body was found the next day in the mud. The mother blames herself for the child’s death.

Psychologists say that many survivors have a shattered view of life itself, since everything they considered precious and important was destroyed in a flash.

They find it difficult to return to their normal routine, lamenting instead the «futility of life» and the «uselessness of efforts.»

Volunteers agree that systematic help is the need of the moment, to put positive thoughts in minds and help the survivors to accept the realities of life and start once again.

A post-disaster study, conducted by the Voluntary Health Association of India following the 1993 Latur earthquake, concluded that psychological assistance to people is important to rebuild their lives.

The study showed that post-disaster depression affected 89% of the survivors, while 74% showed some kind of stress disorder. Panic disorder was seen only in 28% of those affected, but 42% showed generalized anxiety disorder.

The Catholic aid organization Caritas is taking the study’s conclusions into account. Its members in India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Thailand are providing counseling, as well as medical care, potable water, shelter, food and clothing, and other basic necessities.

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