Philippines: Specialised mental health treatment to target survivors of Haiyan

Posted on February 10, 2014

Photo: NASA

Many children were among the victims of typhoon Haiyan, with one school in the Tacloban area of the Philippines losing 59 of its pupils. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) psychiatrist Frederique Drogoul describes a mental health programme that will target schoolchildren, mothers and other people struggling with serious psychological issues three months after the disaster, and provide them with specialised care.

Events of this magnitude affect everyone, and there was a lot of psychological distress as people struggled to deal with loss and bereavement. For the first few days, they were very shocked. In the following weeks, they came to health centres with unexplained physical symptoms, including dizziness, headaches and sleeping disorders, resulting from their psychological distress. Counsellors provided them with ‘psychological first aid’, by listening to them and getting across the message that their reactions were totally normal and would lessen over time.

After a month or two, most people began to recover – though they still felt sad, they were not ill. But five or ten percent of people didn’t recover. They continue to suffer heavily – with post-traumatic stress disorder, severe depression and sometimes with psychosis – and these are the people we want to target.

Providing support in schools is an important part of the programme. When the school in Palo reopened after the typhoon, 59 of its 300 pupils were missing. The teams make weekly visits to the schools and support the teachers, helping them with their own suffering and helping them to manage the suffering of the children. Teachers refer the most severely affected children to our team, who provide group or individual sessions in school.

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Category(s):Mental Health in Asia, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) / Trauma / Complex PTSD

Source material from Medecins Sans Frontieres