12/22/2005, 00.00
INDONESIA
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Treating mental disorders among Nias tsunami survivors

by Benteng Reges

The Young Men's Christian Association is at work on the island: "We must defeat their fear; only then can real reconstruction take place."

Nias (AsiaNews) – "The population of Nias has received food, clothes and tents, but for true reconstruction, the island needs to fight mental disorders, which are still very present." Aad Kik is a Dutch doctor – specialized in the treatment of mental disorders – who forms part of the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA).

He came to Nias quite a long time after the Tsunami emergency, "because we continued to receive a large number of reports from our Indonesian members saying that many Nias residents suffered from trauma because of the tsunami disaster and endless earthquakes plaguing the island. We decided to come here to make ourselves available to help."

The last report published by the YMCA indicates that "most residents of Nias suffer from this type of traumas, even if at times this is hidden." The doctor said the initial period of observation allowed him to identify symptoms of these disorders in the "slow but constant movement of residents, who always went to visit their homes destroyed by the waves. This is a physiological symptom, but it's not the only one.

"The problems are clear in their indifferent manner in socializing with others or –vice versa—from their exaggerated enthusiasm to communicate. Other symptoms are daily insomnia or sleeping nonstop, laziness, isolation, and self-centeredness: all these behaviours are pushed to the extreme.

"The real problem is that the population of Nias has become too dependent on material goods which were dispatched here. No one thought that this type of assistance would have threatened their psychological conditions. Many people think they need only food." To encourage islanders themselves to come up with a solution to all these problems, the association started a training course for four elementary school teachers."

This attempt was aimed at preparing teachers to disseminate know-how about surmounting trauma among their students. Kik said these methods are given to teachers in view of their role as 'frontrunners' in society. "We have no capacity to hold such training for all the people of Nias," he said. "We chose elementary teachers since children are the hardest hit by psychological trauma. Children of a young age are the best patients to treat because they have borne their psychological discomfort only for a short time so it is easier to tackle it in their sub-conscious."

To restore Nias to normality, "this treatment must work. The fear they have now, of serial earthquakes, could be defeated and we could restore people's self-confidence and self-respect, capital of crucial importance for reconstruction".

According the Central Statistics Agency, the same problems may be found in Aceh province. According to the latest report, at least 62,785 Aceh residents suffer from disturbances linked to post-tsunami trauma. "Any moderate earthquake has been quickly raising panic among people where many of them would soon suffer from stress and –the worst—depression," said Rusman Heriawan, agency representative.

There are 192,000 temporarily displaced people living in government settlements, but another 312,000 are still in tents constructed near the ruins of their destroyed homes. More than 263,000 people have lost their jobs and nearly 7,000 have been permanently disabled. In Nias, 40,000 out of 700,000 people are refugees and more than 2,000 people were handicapped by the freak wave.

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