Mental health of disaster survivors shouldn’t be ignored: Experts to TNM

Flood-hit people in Kerala are suffering from anxiety disorder and we should help them properly from now itself, Dr. Sulphi N said.
Mental health of disaster survivors shouldn’t be ignored: Experts to TNM
Mental health of disaster survivors shouldn’t be ignored: Experts to TNM

Flood-hit people in Kerala are suffering from anxiety disorder and a few months later they will suffer from post-disaster traumatic stress disorder, so, we should help them properly from now itself, a senior medic from Indian Medical Association (IMA) in Kerala said.

“Often, people ignore the mental health of disaster survivors. We focus only on compensating the physical loss. I know it’s the need of the hour, however, we should also give importance for mental health of the survivors too,” Dr. Sulphi N, State Secretary of Indian Medical Association, told The News Minute.

During the first and second week of August, Kerala was hit by heavy rain, forcing the state to open 80 dams, flooding all 44 rivers and killing around 400 people.

Even though rain has subsided and the state is limping back to normalcy, there are still around 300,000 people in different shelters, at the time of filing this story.

When the rain was at its peak, some 800,000 people were moved to shelter camps.

According to the government, initial estimates reveal that the state has suffered a loss of nearly Rs 20,000 crore. 

There are people who have lost their dear ones in the flood and all their earnings.

Dr. Sulphi said that currently, they are training paramedics on how to move ahead to hold camps to address the mental health of disaster survivors.

“Already, in some places our medical camps are being held. We plan to hold two medical camps per week in different places. Either group counselling or individual counselling will be held,” Sulphi said, while adding that the mental health of people, especially of children and the aged, will worsen when they return home from camps.

“It is where we have to intervene. Post-disaster traumatic disorder is a serious issue. Sometime, medicines are also required. Whatever method we adopt, we should address it. The mental status of those who have seen death, those who were forced to be a bystander for dead bodies in the flooded water, will be unimaginable,” Sulphi added.

According to Sulphi, medical camps to address mental health of flood survivors should be held at least for six months.

CJ John, a member of Indian Psychiatrist Society, said that the situation is grave and community involvement is needed.

“People are struggling to cope with the physical loss. For some, it would be the loss of dear ones and for others, it would be loss or damage of their properties and business. Whatever it may be, we should be prepared to help them overcome these tough times,” he said.

“Some may even be confused and emotional about rebuilding their houses. So, we have to step in there,” he said.

According to John, community involvement in helping mentally-affected flood survivors is a must and the government should decentralise the steps regarding the same rather than keep it in Thiruvananthapuram.

John and his colleagues are already running a hotline since 23rd of this month to support mentally disturbed flood-hit people.

Dr Arun Kumar K from Ernakulam Psychiatrist Society said that on average, they are getting 20 calls per day.

“Some of the calls are general queries. But some are serious calls. People are getting bad memories of flash floods. While some are not able to focus at work, some have disturbed sleep. These are all anxiety disorders, which is the first stage. Later, we will get post-flood traumatic disorder cases,” Arun added.

The psychiatrists are operating the helpline with an NGO named Magics.

According to Arun, "If cases can be dealt with over phone, we do it and if the patient must see a doctor, then we have a list of doctors who can be made available for the patient in his locality. The helpline number is 9946000458."

Meanwhile, Mini Mohan, a social activist and psychologist, said that when the state is planning a total overhaul, it should also give importance on having a disaster survival plan.

“There are such plans in Scandinavian countries. We are a disaster-prone state. Rains are usual. So, we should have disaster survival plans in place so that we can mitigate the loss,” Mini added.

The state government has also prepared a brief guide on immediate post-flood recovery activity.

It states that acute mental stress or distress is usually temporary, mostly self-limited in a reasonable time.

The guide says that post-flood psychological assistance must be provided by psychologists and/or trained personnel.

“People should be encouraged to seek assistance if psychological symptoms aggravate or persist. The mental health of responders and healthcare personnel should be considered, those expressing distress should be helped by counsellors/ psychologists. Camp officials/ field staff should inform the Medical Officer if they come across any person who is taking medicines for psychiatric issues,” the guide says.

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