Quake Victims' Mental Health Can't Be Forgotten

Mental health is a key part of disaster recovery. Oftentimes coming second to immediate physical needs of victims, mental health must remain in the forefront. In this Mainichi Daily News report, nursing school teacher Amy Knowles revealed the importance addressing the psychological aspects of a crisis. Knowles is a teacher at the King College Knoxville campus in Tennessee.

“No one really addresses the psychological effects when basic needs ... can’t be met,” Knowles told Kyodo News. “Psychosocial issues are not a priority in response.”

While relief missions usually put the focus on food, water, heat and shelter, victims many times suffer in silence at the thought of their horrific experiences and the aftermath of the initial crisis. According to Knowles, who has a background in disaster and emergency response and completed doctoral research on the psychological effects on disaster victims, mental effects from a disaster can include anxiety, nightmares, a sense of fear, feeling disconnected, sadness, hopelessness, guilt and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The Japan earthquake and aftermath is no different. As of April 15, the death toll had surpassed 13,500; more than 14,000 people were still unaccounted for. And while Knowles said that while each survivor reacts differently, some of the emotional effects remain similar, regardless of the initial event.

“How they choose to respond and overcome, I think, is the uniqueness,” she said in the article. “The strongest messages that I see from my research is how long-lasting these effects can be.”

Knowles has completed a comprehensive study of disaster recovery and psychological effects and conclude that there are two outlooks for those who live through tragedy: “survive” and “thrive.”

Survivors were defined as having the “ability to exist despite adverse conditions,” but display signs of anxiety and mistrust, as well as focusing on the past. While those who thrived were defined as having the “ability to prosper or flourish, despite adverse conditions.” This group showed a more hopeful stance and focused on the present or future.

To increase the chances of “thriving” after a disaster, Knowles recommends that survivors never “minimize” the event by ignoring their feelings. And while getting professional help is not always possible, sharing experiences with others is vital for positive mental health.

For more information about mental health and disaster recovery, read the full article:http://mdn.mainichi.jp/features/news/20110416p2g00m0fe038000c.html