Consoling troubled minds

Vedika (name changed), one of the many affected by the Koottikkal landslide, was anxious about future. She had lost her education certificates, which could impact her higher studies and dream. 
Consoling troubled minds

KOCHI: Vedika (name changed), one of the many affected by the Koottikkal landslide, was anxious about future. She had lost her education certificates, which could impact her higher studies and dream. 
But that wasn’t her immediate concern. She had no underclothes to change. Her family had lost everything they owned and saved during a lifetime.

She is probably not the only one living in fear of the uncertain. Though physical damage caused by such calamities are discussed extensively by the media and public, the psychological impact and the way mental health of many families is affected are often ignored.

That is where a team of psychologists led by Dr Henna N N, clinical director, mental and behavioural health of Kothamangalam-based Peacevalley Foundation, offers hope.  “We launched it on a pilot basis at Koottikkal. But people are starting to feel the effect of counselling after dealing with such traumatic experiences,” she says. 

The team came across an elderly woman who seemed unperturbed by the catastrophe. She was experiencing severe aches on her legs but refrained from taking medication as she had lost everything in the landslide.“Reacting normally to an abnormal event is a psychological issue. When we urged her 
to open up, she finally agreed to accept medical assistance. Lending an ear to those in pain can go a long way,” she says.

While society often condemns those who break down in the face of crisis, the science behind it is exactly the opposite, says the doctor. “Think of it like someone behaving normally after they have suffered internal injuries from an accident. That doesn’t mean there aren’t underlying problems they themselves are not aware of. A trained psychologist can pick up on such underlying issues and prevent them from snowballing into post-traumatic disorders. With reflective listening, psychologists can help these people,” she said.

Healing force
The initiative has managed to bring relief to several families so far. “We have been working on Inclusive Disaster Risk Reduction (IDRR) that deals with rescuing people with disabilities. We noticed that people affected by natural calamities were increasingly hesitant to access services offered by government agencies. A lot of people who witnessed the landslide have lost restful sleep. They don’t know how to get out of that fear. Though our volunteers can identify such individuals, they need a trained psychologist to help them,” she said.

Apart from psychologists, doctors, nurses and pharmacists are also being trained to assist the affected families. The team has visited five camps near Koottikkal and reached out to over 100 individuals daily. “We visited those in the camps and initiated conversations. If we feel there is a need for focused counselling, we take them to our mobile clinic,”she says. Henna points out the need for the government to ensure psychological support to families that face such disasters — flood, landslide or others. “Many governmental agencies only quantify damages post the calamity. They still haven’t reached an intervention stage in the state. Though the disaster help desk has psychologists, the government system hasn’t started volunteer training on an extensive scale yet,” said Henna.

Long-term help for families
“We found that applications of counselling psychology on a disaster-front could bring a world of good to affected families. It can act as a first aid to those who lost everything. We are now thinking of launching long-term plans by ensuring follow-up counselling sessions,” said Peacevalley Foundation coordinator Sabith Umer.

A few psychologists from Peacevalley Foundation have been helping victims of the Koottikkal landslide to come to terms with the disaster they faced

They feel there is a need to expand their intervention at the government level, which can have a long-term impact on the mental and emotional health of victims

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