Flood victims at risk of developing PTSD, say experts

by AZALEA AZUAR / pic by TMR FILE

FLOOD victims may likely develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) if they are unable to cope with the physical, psychological and financial challenges arising from the disaster.

Mercy Malaysia exco Dr Keith Tye Sue Kiat said apart from PTSD, the common mental issues include feeling anxious especially when seeing dark clouds and disappointment due to the absence of a warning before the floods.

“Quite a number of them are having some psychological distress due to the multiple issues.

“Let’s say if we are talking about the different groups, there are different concerns for children, adolescents or for the elderly,” he told The Malaysian Reserve.

“We give them different interventions like in general, we will provide psychological first aid (PFA) which is an immediate response that we will usually provide to the survivor based on a potential guideline, because we want to reduce the tendency of having the mental health issue in the future,” he explained.

PFA also includes non-intrusive and particular care support, and councillors would also assess the needs and concerns of the flood victims.

“We try to help them to address their basic needs and then we list the names and then try to provide support for them if this is a safe place for them to receive attention.

“Then we also happen to connect to any information that has been in social support and also we are trying to protect them from harm,” Dr Tye explained.

This type of support is applicable for all groups and Mercy Malaysia has even set up a child-learning space, so they would go back to normal.

Another thing to look at are the warning signs, Dr Tye said. Some are able to cope with the current challenges, while some may have mental health issues and require further attention.

“Let’s say they feel that they are having this issue, it is good to refer to psychological counsellors for further assessment.

“If they start to show the signs and symptoms of isolation, having difficulty eating, sleeping and then they start to have suicidal thoughts, it might not be a good idea to leave them alone.”

Any individual from different backgrounds can conduct PFA services, provided they are trained in handling the disaster first.

“Even as a mental professional, for those who are psychological practitioners, counsellors, or even a normal citizen. As long as they are trained, they are able to provide the service.”

For Mercy Malaysia, they are already on the ground conducting PFA for flood victims in Hulu Langat and Shah Alam, Selangor, as well as in Pahang, to provide psychological support services.

Social Health PhD candidate Dr Khairil Idham Ismail said chronic reaction towards the disaster can develop into either acute stress of PTSD where the common symptoms include re-experiencing the incident and extreme emotional numbness.

It also includes an extreme attempt to prevent these memories form arising again, which means the victims would not want to think or speak about anything which is related to the event.

They would feel heavily triggered if it is brought up.

“When we look at acute stress, it is temporary from the stress response towards the disaster.

“The confusion that occurs is brief as a result of a response to a traumatic experience,” said Dr Khairil.

“The vulnerable groups include children, geriatric or the elderly, those with mental disorders and persons with disabilities, especially those who are from lower income communities and are poor.

“These are the groups that really need assistance and are at high risk in developing some kind of mental health problems,” he said during the PFA 101 for Volunteers webinar organised by Ikram Putrajaya recently.

Despite all the negative implications the floods have caused, there are actually some silver linings behind it.

Dr Khairil believes that flood victims would emerge as altruistic because they feel easier helping other people.

“Another positive impact is that we would develop better leadership skills, we would feel like we want to solve problems, conflict, victims would also develop a relationship between the non-governmental organisations and volunteers.”

University of Cyberjaya psychiatry lecturer Dr Rafidah Bahari said volunteers should remain calm and reassuring to flood victims, so that they feel safe.

“We need to listen with our eyes, heart and ears, so they are able to fully concentrate,” she said during the same webinar.

Volunteers need to pay attention and listen to them completely because this is a way to care about them and being sincere about it.

“When a person is in distress, a lot is going on in their minds, but when they start talking, victims would get back to their senses.”