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Trauma soothed after deadly quake

Xinhua | Updated: 2013-04-27 01:44

LUSHAN, Sichuan - Anxious and worn out, Xiao Cheng sat silently as class took a break in a makeshift school which is a tent.

Trauma soothed after deadly quake

The 16-year-old has found it difficult to sleep and is easily startled ever since the 7.0-magnitude earthquake severely damaged his home in Lushan county, southwest China's Sichuan province, on April 20.

"The aftershocks are so scary that I am afraid of losing my family," said the slim teenager who barely survived the earthquake with his family.

In a counselling center set up in the tent school in Longmen Township, Xiao Cheng (alias) took an hour-long session playing computer games and deep breathing with Zhu Zhuohong, a counsellor with the Institute of Psychology of Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).

"I feel more relaxed now", said Xiao Cheng after the session.

What Xiao Cheng is going through, according to Zhu, is a post-traumatic response as constant flashbacks of the disaster causes excessive concern of future shocks.

In the face of an earthquake that destroyed lives and properties, psychological intervention is needed to help people deal with the quake's emotional impact and move on.

Counselling services are still available for survivors five years after an 8.0-magnitude earthquake struck Wenchuan in the same province, leaving about 87,000 people dead or missing and more than 370,000 injured.

PSYCHOLOGICAL SUPPORT NEEDED

Cases of quake survivors under stress prompted specialists to reach out and tend to the psychological wounds in the wake of the Lushan disaster.

"The biggest change from the Wenchuan earthquake is that more people are seeking psychological support this time, thanks to their awareness of the service and better understanding of their psychological needs," said Liu Zhengkui, an associate professor with the CAS's Institute of Psychology, who specializes in disaster psychology and psychological trauma.

What was supposed to be 40-student counselling session at the psychological support center in Longxing school was attended by more than 200 people, including many parents, Zheng said.

Psychological support is most needed among students, whose commitment to schoolwork depends on their mental well-being, said Kang Lin, a psychological expert with Chengdu-based West China Hospital. Kang's psychological team has helped more than 2,000 people, including 100 students, since the quake.

Care should also be given to those injured, relatives of quake victims as well as rescuers and medical workers, Kang added.

PSYCHOLOGICAL SUPPORT OFFERED

In the wake of the earthquake, Sichuan's health department set up a workgroup on psychological and medical support along with two expert panels.

About 80 experts from Sichuan's eight medical institutions have entered Lushan and Baoxing counties, worst hit in the quake, to evaluate local residents' psychological needs, said Zhang Wei, deputy head of the workgroup.

These experts are training local medical staff on psychological intervention and rehabilitation, Zhang said, adding that additional support from other provinces will be brought in if needed.

Experts said psychological support - an integral part in the relief effort along with life rescue and logistics support - is a challenging task that needs adequate financial backing and coordination among health, education and civil affairs departments. The help should remain available five to 10 years after the disaster.

The Wenchuan earthquake in 2008 raised the importance of psychological support among the government and the public, said Liu from the Institute of Psychology, adding that the country has made progress on the policy front but should also aim for better implementation among various government departments.

He wants a fund specially earmarked for psychological programs from the budget for relief efforts.

According to Liu, the Institute of Psychology is still running six of 10 psychological support centers, which were established after the Wenchuan earthquake. More than 1,000 specialists and 2,500 volunteers have been involved in the program.

"The cost of running these counselling centers, estimated to be 10 million yuan (1.6 million U.S. dollars) mostly from donations, underscores the need for financial support. Otherwise, it will be too expensive for the programs to carry on," Liu said. In the counselling center in Longxing school, Xiao Cheng was shown photos of a city, which was reconstructed after the Wenchuan earthquake.

"I hope my hometown will be as beautiful as this one," he said.

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