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Mounting damage… The earthquake leaves indelible scars

Mounting damage… The earthquake leaves indelible scars

The earthquake occurred, leaving thousands dead, injured and missing. Buildings and homes collapsed. The cameras recorded the physical scars and wounds, the cracks in the buildings, and the cracks in the ground. The data counts the numbers of the dead, the injured, and the survivors, but other wounds that were not captured by cameras or counted by meters are those that wreaked havoc and terrified lives, and are still hidden inside the bodies.
The head of the Department of Psychiatry at the Medical Center at the American University of Beirut, Fadi Maalouf, told The New Arab: “The number of those affected psychologically by natural disasters far exceeds the number of those affected physically. Such as earthquakes with symptoms such as a feeling of fear and anxiety, and disturbances in eating and sleeping, and in behavior, and it is possible to develop into psychological disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, or anxiety, and people who have experienced the disaster closely, and individuals who suffer from psychological disorders or have experienced Previous traumas are more vulnerable to it.
The head of the psychiatry department at St. Georges University Hospital in Beirut, Georges Karam, confirms to The New Arab: “The psychological impact of the earthquake disaster varies between people, and the people who experienced it show symptoms including tension, fear, severe anxiety, and loss of hope. It may develop in If not treated, it leads to post-traumatic stress disorder. The patient suffers from feelings of fear, nightmares, and tension if he remembers things related to the trauma, etc.”
Karam adds: “Scientific studies indicate that the percentage of people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder is higher in societies that experienced earthquakes, reaching 40 percent, compared to the general average of 5 percent. People who have experienced previous traumas in their lives are more likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder.” Trauma, as the brain does not forget past experiences or feelings of anxiety associated with them.Most of the psychological symptoms go away or lessen with the passage of time without the need for medical intervention due to the ability of people to be resilient and deal with crises.While people who suffer from psychological symptoms for a long period of time need to Help by psychologists.

Maalouf points out that “children are more likely to suffer psychological tensions when earthquakes occur, as it is difficult for them to comprehend what is going on, or to control the situation, just as children do not have the intellectual and behavioral skills to deal with feelings of anxiety and fear. Children under five years old may show a disorder in Behaviors such as not controlling urination and sleeping with parents.Children between the ages of 6 to 12 years also show physical symptoms that express psychological pain such as abdominal and head pain, and strong attachment to parents.Adolescents tend to become introverted, and some of them suffer from panic attacks. Previous experiences are more vulnerable to psychological effects when natural disasters occur. Parents’ behavior is also reflected in children’s mental health.”

Maalouf asserts that “providing assistance after traumatic events fortifies the psychological health of the rescuers and paramedics, through the feeling of being helped by the community to which they belong. However, the inability to rescue at times may generate feelings of guilt and frustration among some.”
Karam says that rescuers and paramedics are also at risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder, given that they have lived through the tragedy. effects of anxiety and stress.

The horror of the disaster will have psychological effects on the survivors (Muhammad Al-Rifai / France Press)

In light of the need for medical and emergency personnel, food aid, and shelter, some people wonder about the importance of following up on mental health when earthquakes occur. George Karam explains, “Attention to mental health is necessary when disasters occur. Physical symptoms may recover with time, but psychological symptoms remain if not treated. There is no benefit in securing food and shelter without paying attention to mental health, which may paralyze people’s ability to continue their lives and work.”
In turn, Maalouf believes that securing the basic needs of those affected and survivors of the earthquake is an essential part of mental health. Providing safety, medicine, food and shelter contributes to strengthening mental health, which is an integral part of public health, and there is no physical health without sound mental health.
Guidance and advice vary in dealing with the psychological effects of earthquakes. Doctor Maalouf says: “It is important to provide a sense of safety for those affected, to secure their basic needs of shelter and food, to stay away from social media to avoid scenes of rubble and victims, to try to help others, to promote feelings of solidarity and sympathy, and to work for people to gradually return to their normal lives of work and study.” He points out that international health organizations provide, when disasters occur, primary and emergency psychological interventions and then help, in the next stages, people to express the feelings they experienced of fear and loss, and to enhance their communication with society and others.

Watching footage of the disaster exacerbates feelings of tension (Ozan Kuzeh / AFP)

Dr. Karam stresses “the need to help those affected by securing proper food, adequate sleep, trying to stay away from social media, repeating news and tragic scenes to give the brain a break and protect it, the importance of restoring people’s daily routine, and focusing on other aspects of their lives to reduce the burden of trauma on them.”

For its part, the “American Psychological Association” recommends that people affected by earthquakes take a break from the news and from watching footage of the disaster that exacerbates the feeling of tension, and to continue with the routine practices that can be done, which relieves the brain from thinking about the earthquake, and focus on some positive things that restore Confidence in overcoming difficult days, contributing to volunteer work that makes a difference in society, and trying to discover a person’s strengths.

Scientific researchers are conducting several studies on the psychological impact of earthquakes in areas that have witnessed disasters over the years. For example, researchers studied the repercussions of the psychological impact of the earthquake that struck Peru in July 2021, and the results of the study show that 52 percent suffered from depression or anxiety. In another scientific study of survivors of the earthquake that struck Sichuan Province, China in 2008, the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder was 40 percent, and risk factors for anxiety and depression were associated with women, people with low incomes, and the absence of social support.

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