After floods, trauma haunts survivors

New Delhi, June 24 (IANS) They may have escaped death but witnessed hundreds, including their loved ones, die in front of their eyes. The victims of the Uttarakhand floods may need more than medical care for their bruises, they would need psychological counseling as well, say experts.

The tales of horror from the devastating floods include that of 13-year-old Harmanpreet, who was reduced to eating from garbage cans after starving for over 43 hours.

People recounted sleeping on deadbodies and family members seeing their loved ones being washed away.

Doctors say the trauma remains for very long with those who survive such disasters and medical help is needed to deal with this.

"The victims of incidents like these suffer psychological trauma. We call it Post Trauma Stress Disorder (PTSD) in medical terms," said Mitali Srivastava, Head, Department of Clinical Psychology, Delhi Psychiatry Centre, Cosmos Hospitals.

"The post-disaster trauma occurs when someone experiences a direct or indirect loss," said Sunil Mittal, Chairman, Delhi Psychiatry Centre.

"It may occur due to loss of some dear one, or loss of poperty, or even if someone has just witnessed the incident. In case of a family member being lost, people also suffer from survivor's guilt. The impact is huge and professional intervention is must," he said.

Sameer Kalani Consultant Psychiatrist, Cosmos Institute of Mental Health & Behavioral Sciences (CIMBS), said it is the replaying of the trauma that gets blocked in the victim's brain that leads to anxiety and other problems.

"After a situation that posed a threat to ones life and integrity, this is how the human brain reacts. Someone may have seen the floods, someone may have seen dead bodies. After the incident is over, they get flashbacks and they get anxiety attacks," Kalani told IANS.

"It happens because a of lack of Serotonin, a nuero-chemical. A person may be sitting quietly and suddenly a flashback may occur and he would have an anxiety attack," Kalani explained.

"The patients have depression, high distress levels, anxiety attacks, nightmares and flashbacks," Srivastava added.

"It's a devastating condition and people need some kind of solace," she said.

Doctors say expert help is needed to avoid further damage.

"The mind tries to suppress the trauma and in an attempt to avoid it, flashbacks are created. The most important thing is a ventilation; talking about the trauma helps a lot," Kalani said.

"In the counseling we did after the (26/11) Mumbai terror attack, we realised psychological help for a few weeks will help prevent further illness and disorders," he added.

Srivastava said a technique called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) can help a victim in releaseing the blockages that cause the disorder.

"EMDR is one of the most researched psychological techniques used on such patients. In this technique, movement of the eyes in a defined way is used to reprocess the whole trauma and release it by removing the blockage," she said.

Mittal addeed hypnotic-therapy is also useful.

"In this technique, hypnotism is used to reach the back of patient's mind and clear the blockages," he added.

Doctors in the national capital are also helping the patients through a helpline - 9910135295.

"We are mostly getting calls from people whose family members are missing. These people have a sense of hopelessness. There are others whose family members have come home, or some family members have come while some are missing. The common problems these people are facing are a sense of anxiety, sleep disorders and depression," Kalani added.

(Anjali Ojha can be contacted at anjali.o@ians.in)

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