05/20/2015, 00.00
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For survivors, psychological problems more damaging than the earthquake

by Christopher Sharma
Almost a month after the earthquake, people are discouraged and fearful. Two million Nepalese suffer from post-traumatic syndrome whilst thousands are still waiting for help. For apostolic vicar, counselling and spiritual assistance are a priority.

Kathmandu (AsiaNews) – Compared to the deaths and devastation caused by the earthquake, "psychological losses may be costlier. Almost everyone living in the affected areas is afraid to go indoors,” this according to Mgr Paul Simick, apostolic vicar to Nepal, who remains concerned for the difficulties Nepalis still face.

“I don’t see people comfortable and confident even a month after the earthquake,” the prelate said. “It will take time to get back to normal life and counselling and spiritual assistance have become urgent in this situation. All religious leaders have a significant role to play and the Catholic Church is working with various organisations with this in mind."

According to Dr Saroj Ojha, head of the psychiatry department at Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital's Institute of Medicine, there are five typical responses of the victims affected by a natural disaster. They include acute distress reaction, adjustment disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), public anxiety and depression simultaneously. At present, “Millions of people are suffering from these symptoms after the earthquake”, he explained.

In his view, “Poor planning, insufficient machinery and equipment, loose infrastructure and unpreparedness for a natural disaster can cause delay in the rescue and relief operations and further aggravate the psychological consequences of earthquakes”.

In fact, thousands of people are still after four weeks, waiting for rescue. “They are waiting [. . .] trapped by hills and mountains with falling stones from four sides. These people will have huge psychological problems and few chances of recovery,” Dr Ojha added.

This is the case for Devi Prasad Pokhrel whose family lost everything. “I have not been able to sleep or eat for days because I fear the earthquake will hit again," he said. “My mind is different from before and after the earthquake. Sometimes, it takes more time to think and decide. Our family members have not entered any building yet. Every time it shakes I feel panic.”

Sadly, “Mentally traumatized people have shorter, more sickly lives,” said Richard Mollica, director of the Harvard Center for Refugee Trauma. “You may not die at first, but you will die 20 years after a catastrophe from diabetes and stroke.”

Nepal has no plan to address this problem, but the authorities are aware of the situation. "We have no plan but we are working to figure out what to do,” said Health Minister Khagaraj Adhikari.

“As the apostolic vicar rightly pointed out, we will soon talk with religious leaders to elaborate the plans for cooperation and provide psychological counselling. This could be a good idea. At present however, we are busy in rescue work and treating the injured."

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