The Tsunami and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
By: Beth McHugh 2005
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can affect any one of us, not just those caught up in a tsunami. Accidents, sexual assault, acts of terrorism; all can contribute to the development of this distressing condition.
December 26 brings the one year anniversary of the Indian Ocean tsunami that killed over 300,000 people. The world responded generously to the plight of those who inhabit the countries rimming the Indian Ocean; from Indonesia, up through SE Asia across to India and Sri Lanka, and as far west as Africa.
Yet despite the millions of dollars in aid and the beginnings of restoration apparent in many areas, the psychological fallout from this horrific natural disaster still continue to haunt the daily lives of many of the survivors.
For individuals who live through a life-threatening event such as the Indian Ocean tsunami, the potential of developing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is of real concern. This disorder, which we will discuss in later articles, is initiated by events such as tsunamis, earthquakes, war experiences, horrendous accidents, and most commonly, sexual assault. And it is a disorder which, if left untreated and unrecognized, can persist for decades.
Health care workers in the wake of the tsunami are reporting numerous incidences of PTSD as they attend to the sick and displaced in all areas affected by the disaster. One year down the track, the fisherman in particular are still frightened of the sea and will not return, or only return occasionally, thus putting the livelihood of both their families and their communities in jeopardy. People who have lived near the sea for generations have moved to higher areas in fear of a repeat performance of December 26. Alternatively, many remain in their traditional coastal homes but are haunted by persistent nightmares and the seemingly irrational fears that are just some of the characteristic hallmarks of PTSD.
As well as food, medicine, building materials, and other forms of physical aid, it is important to remember that, in incidences involving overwhelming fear and terror, access to psychological aid is also paramount. Case workers in affected areas say that the psychological needs of the villagers themselves are not being met. Too often when a person is traumatized we tend to focus only on their material needs—food, shelter, and clothing, and ignore the huge emotional impact of experiencing a life-threatening situation.
Future articles will look at Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in detail, how it affects our lives, and the lives of our loved ones, and what we can do about it. From the fallout of Hurricane Katrina to the distress of sexual assault, PTSD has the potential to touch all of our lives, usually when we least expect it.