AS the anniversary of the great calamity that was Typhoon Yolanda arrives, it is time to think in depth of what work has to be done to rise from the chaos, sorrow and desperation it has wrought. While the Rehabilitation Plan has been signed and is to be implemented, there is much more to be done. I am talking in terms of psychic healing, attending to the broken spirits and pessimism that many survivors carry with them as we speak.
There have been news reports that mental illness among the survivors is a fact and it is no surprise. Suicides, depressions and maybe unreasonable behavior because of mental imbalance are coming to the fore. A human being is both body and spirit, what affects one affects the other. Human beings are also social animals. They thrive or wither on the quality of their relationships. Imagine what has happened – whole families lost to death, many persons never seen again, dead or alive. They have just disappeared, wiped out. They are no longer in one’s life, but they remain in one’s memory. Left are orphans whether young or old. Grandparents with no grandchildren, children without parents, decimated clans. The struggle to live for the survivors is stark and unrelenting. The sudden, drastic, violent and painful absences are gnawing at them as they try to cope with life’s new vicissitudes. The overwhelming cruelty of Nature on virtually defenseless people and their towns and cities is a nightmare that will recur for years if not lifetimes. Something has to be done, the psychic wounds must be addressed, if not to heal them completely, at least to alleviate and to console, to comfort and to care. We have to reach out professionally and personally to bring back hope and will to carry on. These survivors must be given the strength to cope.
While many groups have ascertained the need for psychic healing and have brought methods and means to that end such as the actor workshops and play-acting that invites participants from the survivors as well as an audience, to them these must continue for a long time. And to do that, they will need support. Another way would be to gather survivors and let them tell their stories, if necessary, record them and then comment on and discuss them. These are plain psychiatric methods that psychiatrists use with patients. In the victims of Typhoon Yolanda, we have thousands and thousands of patients that need to be encouraged to express themselves, to be listened to and to be sympathized with. This is also part of rehabilitation, beyond physical into mental.
Basically, I am advocating a designed psychiatric healing program for Yolanda survivors from children to adults to be organized and funded by wherever funds can be generated from – government, private organizations, psychiatric professionals and people who believe it should be done. I understand from former Senator Leticia Shahani that the first Mental Health bill proposed as law is now being contemplated. There must be a provision there for psychiatric care for disaster areas. It is time. Senator Shahani says we are the only country in Asia without a national mental health law.
The programs that professionals manage for victims of calamities worldwide and as a protocol for the mental stresses of war to natural disasters should be looked into and adapted for Yolanda survivors. Debriefings are a first step as I mentioned above where the survivors are asked to narrate their experiences, express their feelings, mourn their losses and if possible, try to see a future that they can handle.
I am sure there are templates to follow that professionals can easily adopt. The bereaved families of the World Center twin towers as well as the responders to that calamity have been attended to for psychic healing.
Which brings me to suggest that when all is said and done and even before that, it is time to think of a memorial for all who were lost, particularly in Samar and Leyte. One of the painful burdens that those who survived carry with them is the absence of graves with names, the absence of bodies buried, the utter lack of enough cemeteries, the painful and inadequate recourse to mass burials in pits hastily dug and as hastily covered up in inappropriate places. A place has to be found that is open, green, and spacious to put a memorial to all who perished. If there is no such place, then one should be made by clearing a space and making it green and natural and expansive.
It is best that this be a project of the private sector, initiated, organized, designed and completed by citizen contributions to which the government should give a financial counterpart. But still government had to provide a public place to be used. Maybe a competition should be held to choose a design after a concept that carries the message of remembrance, sympathy and hope.
November 8, 2013 in the Philippines must be commemorated for the sake of our common humanity with the victims.