Survivors Battle Anxiety, Stress after Quake
    2010-04-25 12:23:32     Xinhua      Web Editor: Zhang Jin
Visions of shaking earth and school buildings haunt in the dreams of Bayang, an 18-year-old high school student. Fu Wencai, headmaster of an elementary school jumps on his feet every time someone bangs the door close, fearing another earthquake has come.

These are some of the survivors of the earthquake that struck Yushu prefecture of northwestern China's Qinghai Province on April 14.

Eleven days after the 7.1-magnitude quake reduced most of Yushu to mere rubble, thousands are still struggling to fight anxiety and stress.

"It is likely for people to suffer from irritability, anxiety, fear, despair, guilt, numbness and confusion after hit by an earthquake of such a large scale," said Guo Yanqing, a psychological expert with the Beijing-based Peking University Sixth Hospital.

Guo is one of three experts sent by the Ministry of Health to Qinghai' s provincial capital Xining on April 18, to provide trainings on psychological counseling for medical workers to be dispatched to Yushu.

Shen Zhenming, vice director of the Tangshan No. 5 Hospital who arrived in Yushu on April 20, said generally speaking about 30 to 40 percent of quake victims needed psychological counseling.

He said he had already provided psychological counseling for more than 50 people at local hospitals.

"Loss of homes, families and properties, in addition to worries of ensuing aftershocks are keeping people in fear and causing insomnia," said Shen, who is himself a survivor from the earthquake that struck Tangshan in 1976.

Many people in Sichuan Province had suffered from severe depression after the Wenchuan earthquake in 2008, and some even became suicidal, he said.

"A day seemed as long as a year after the earthquake," said Bayang, a senior student of the Yushu Prefecture Ethnic Middle School. No students and teachers of the school had been hurt or killed in school during the April 14 earthquake.

Bayang had been working as a volunteer hours after the earthquake setting up tents for the homeless, helping nurses give shots for the sick, and distributing relief supplies to the needed. She returned to school on April 23 as it resumed classes in makeshift houses on its playground for senior students facing the upcoming college entrance exam.

But nightmares keep the 18-year-old Tibetan girl awake at night.

"I dream of the earth shaking under my feet and school buildings trembling," she said.

She is not by far the worst shaken victim.

"I have this really shy classmate," Bayang said, "who had been raised by her mother alone for years but lost her mom in the earthquake."

"She hid in the corner to cry when the news came. The next time I saw her, she was kind of lost the whole time, and showed little reaction to what people say to her," she said, "I think she needs some psychological counseling."

Fu Wencai, headmaster of Yushu's Hongqi Elementary School, also said such counseling was a must, especially for the young. The school had a total of 1,918 students before the earthquake.

"Although no one was hurt at our school on April 14, I am sure that fear has taken root in the hearts of the kids," said Fu, who belongs to the Tu ethnic group.

"Not just the kids, even the adults, including me, have fears. Every time I heard someone slam their car doors close, BANG, and I would jump on my feet fearing another earthquake," he said.

He said the school would resume classes at the end of this month, and he would let the children play more during school hours, "so that they can forget the fear, but not the earthquake. They should remember the earthquake," Fu said.

Shen Zhenming said psychological counseling should focus on helping quake victims to face up to the reality, including their losses to the quake, and to speak out how they feel inside and pin new hopes on the future.

But Shen acknowledged that it was still hard to sign up many quake victims for psychological counseling due to difficulties in communication.

About 90 percent of Yushu residents are Tibetan, and almost all are devout Buddhists.

"A lot of the quake victims do not speak Chinese mandarin, making it almost impossible for us to communicate," Shen said, "Fortunately, many teenagers had offered to be translators, which is of great help."

Meanwhile, Guo Yanqing said Tibetan traditions should be respected when providing psychological counseling to the quake victims, lest imposing further harm on the victims.

"I heard in one case some doctors in Xining insisted that an injured old lady transported from the quake zone should wash her hair but she refused," he said.

"As it turned out, it is a local tradition that when someone dies, his or her family members cannot wash hair in the next 49 days nor wear new clothes. They believe otherwise the deceased would not be blessed after their death," Guo said.

"I feel better now," Bayang said after talking with psychological experts at her school. "I hope I can enter a medical college."

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