A PSYCHOLOGIST from the University of the Philippines cautioned people from describing the conditions of Super Typhoon Yolanda victims as “traumatized” saying they are “just overwhelmed.”
“Being overwhelmed is a state that every disaster victim experiences which manifest reactions like most people who experience similar situations. But when we do psycho-social work we try to stay away from the word trauma because there are many psychiatric associations with that word.”
This was the explanation given by Dr. Violeta Bautista, psychology professor at the University of the Philippines to The Manila Times on Wednesday.
Trauma, she says, is an emotional state where a person has been overwhelmed but has exceeded the capacity to cope.
Traumatized patients, she adds, are those who are like falling apart, losing their sensibilities, experiencing nervous breakdowns which is really what is not happening to those exposed to disasters like Yolanda.
Bautista explained that there are many who go through their lives, coping and learning from their experiences after a series of critical incidents like disasters. It would be unfair for them to be referred to as traumatized, she added.
It is also understandable, she says, for many of the victims to manifest stress reactions. “Stress is something that every person experiences. Every human aspect like processes of thinking, emotions, physical and even spiritual are affected by stress,” Bautista said.
Common emotional stress reactions would include shock, anger, despair, emotional numbing, guilt, sadness, irritability, helplessness and terror. Stress reactions can also lead to deprived pleasure or loss of material things.
Common physical stress reactors are fatigue, insomnia, sleep disturbance, headaches, gastrointestinal problems and decrease in appetite. Other stress reactions are social withdrawal, alienation and having conflict with others.
Bautista also said that a person may be detached, uninjured and not have lost anyone in a typhoon yet he could be experiencing stress or showing signs of it.
“Overlapping stress reactions arise from losing some and grieving for them. For those who have been exposed to disaster and experience many losses side by side with stress reactions, they are going through grieving process,” she added.
Victims who lost their livelihood or properties and even loved ones go through different stages of grieving that people normally go through, Bautista said. “For example, some people, when they mend become numb, paralyzed [unable to move]or unable to feel anything like a robot. This is a normal grieving process. This stage is called shock,” Bautista explained.
Bautista said that grieving by typhoon victims can come in the form of shock or denial and anger that eventually goes away.
There is no definite period for them to cope or overcome stress but usually this lasts from six months to a year, depending on the person. She said some can easily adapt to life without a loved one or an important possession.
“Energy and a new focus enables a person to cope with stress and grieving,” Bautista said.
She advised against quarantine for victims experiencing grief. “It is the last option that must be given them. But support from family, friends and other compassionate people is very important and helpful to typhoon victims for them to cope with the loss,” she said.
“Anyone can express their ‘pagdamay’ to them. Filipinos are known for these, for helping others, for being with them,” said Bautista.
She stated that typhoon victims need to feel connected and should not feel abandoned or castaway because they suffered from severe discomfort. (The typhoon, however, tore down communication lines and road access making the situation for stress and grieving all the more difficult).
Practical assistance through information is another tool to help them manage their emotions. “Victims need to feel secure about the location of their loved ones, about the rebuilding of their homes and lives, assurances of jobs and education for their young,” Bautista said.
Children who were typhoon victims would have the same stress reactions as the adults. “Parents or elders should communicate with them, be with them and understand their feelings in order to help them cope with grief,” she said.
The UP Psychology Department and other non-government organizations are currently doing psychological first aid trainings for students, staffs and faculty in dealing with relatives badly hit by the typhoon. These trainings aim to enhance survivor’s resilience and emotional strength.
The UP also has cross-enrollees from the Visayas who were victims of Super Typhoon Yolanda, which could be beneficiaries of the training.