Treating mental trauma a daunting task

Updated: 2008-05-28 09:40

Liu Yisi sits on a hospital bed, reading a comic book. His nose is bruised, swollen and cut, and his left arm is heavily bandaged. While his physical injuries from China's May 12 earthquake are healing, mental trauma has made the 13-year-old withdraw into mostly silence.

Nine-year-old Xia Xueyin, her face badly bruised from a fall during last week's earthquake, poses for a photo by her father in front of her family's damaged home in Hanwang town of Sichuan province, Thursday, May 22, 2008. The girl's parents said that they brought her back to her home to see the damage and look for her belongings to help her cope with the trauma of having experienced the May 12 earthquake. Experts say post-traumatic stress caused by a disaster of the scale China just experienced can ripple through a stricken community long after the rubble has been cleared, and can have seriously debilitating effects. [Agencies]

Li Fuhong, a psychology professor who voluntarily drove nearly 200 miles to the disaster zone, speaks softly to Liu. He coaxes the boy to tell him what happened when he escaped the ruins of his school in the city of Mianzhu and makes him repeat these words: "The bad events are over. The future will be better. I need to be strong."

The teenager is lucky to be getting help. Across central China's disaster zone, many other such victims with mental trauma are going untreated because health services are already strained.

Hospitals and clinics were destroyed along with so much else across Sichuan province in the quake, leaving acute shortages of staff and facilities. In the immediate aftermath, medical services have focused on treating crushed and broken bones, amputated limbs and on preventing disease outbreaks.

Experts warn that mental trauma could be a hidden toll for many survivors.

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