Severe mental health toll looms after Turkey earthquake


By Humeyra Pamuk and Timour Azhari

ISTANBUL/ANTAKYA, TURKEY (Reuters) – It has been three weeks since Tugche Seren Gul’s aunt and grandmother died in Antakya when a devastating earthquake hit southeastern Turkey. Yet every night she waits until 4:17 am, the exact time when the disaster strikes, to go to bed.

“We just keep thinking that another disaster will hit us then and just wait for it to pass,” said 28-year-old Gul. Gul fled her family’s home with her mother just before the walls of the house collapsed in the earthquake.

After going barefoot into the street, Gull sees the corpse of his neighbor killed by falling concrete. She remembers the screams of people trapped in collapsed buildings.

Gul said the terror had taken a toll on the mental health of survivors who had “lost everything” in the earthquake-ravaged city of Antakya. I would like to seek help, but for now my only priority is to establish a new life for myself and my family.

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The magnitude 7.8 earthquake is the deadliest in modern Turkish history and will have profound psychological impact, experts and officials say. Across the country, he killed over 44,300 people and left over 1.5 million homeless in freezing conditions. Millions have lost their families, jobs, savings and hope for the future.

Experts fear children will be hit hardest. The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) said many of her more than 5.4 million children living in earthquake zones are at risk of developing anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. rice field.

After visiting Turkey, UNICEF Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia Afshan Khan said:

“They need to be able to resume their education and urgently need psychosocial support to deal with the trauma they have experienced.”

At a large camp for displaced people next to Hatay Stadium on the outskirts of Antakya, a psychosocial support team has set up a small playground and pitched tents full of toys. Children sat in colorful chairs in front of a large portable screen with cartoons running. Some children played hopscotch.

Mehmet Sari, a government psychosocial support worker, said he and other members of his team found signs of trauma in children. Some kids have flashbacks to bedwetting,” he told Reuters.

They need long-term support to recover from trauma, he said.

Turkey’s Ministry of Family and Social Services said it had dispatched more than 3,700 social workers to assist survivors throughout the earthquake zone.

Volunteers from Izmir-based group Sokak Sanatlari Atolyesi don Superman and clown costumes and work with children living in tents at a shelter in Hatay province.

But last Monday a 6.4-magnitude earthquake hit, dashing efforts to give children a sense of normalcy in the weeks of terror after the shock.

A video provided by Erdal Kovan, one of the volunteers and art director of Sokaku Atelier Si, shows the children’s cheers and songs turning into screams.

Another hugged the infant she was carrying, shouting, “Calm down.”

“Continuous Chronic Stress”

Turkish people were already under great pressure due to rising poverty and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, said Ayse Bilge Selcuk, a professor and psychologist at Koç University. Now Earthquake has taken it to the next level.

“The stress is chronic, constant, and now beyond what I can handle,” Selçuk said. “For this country to rise again, we need to find that strength within us, and it starts with our psychology,” she added.

President Tayyip Erdogan promised to rebuild their homes within a year, but thousands of people left their tents and shipping containers, leaving daily queues for food and moving into permanent housing. It will be many months before we do.

According to Selcuk, people seem numb, which could be a defense mechanism to deal with insurmountable stress. Anxiety, helplessness, and depression are likely to be common, and young people may feel angry.

Reconstruction efforts must include mental health, Selcuk said, calling on the government to send trained psychologists to the earthquake zone and provide funding to stay there. “Sustainability is key. You shouldn’t draw attention to it after three months,” she said.

(Reporting by Humeira Pamuk; Editing by Alexandra Hudson and Frank Jack Daniel)

Copyright 2023 Thomson Reuters.

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