By Joseph O. Prewitt Diaz, PhD
A week has elapsed since the beginning of the devastation of three concurrent catastrophes, two natural, and one man-made disaster in Japan. With the immediate response it is expected that the international entities such as the MHPSS group, WHO, and UN have initiated coordination meetings with the government and other stakeholders to plan how to move ahead into the rehabilitation and reconstruction.
For the disaster affected people there is “a long road to hoe”. Hundreds of thousand have experienced the proverbial “root shock” having lost home, dear ones, neighborhood and place. Thousands of first responders have been working for long hours trying to contain the situation and normalize the daily living in spite of replicas and nuclear related dangers. What is needed now from a psychosocial support optic is to foster security, comfort and contact with dear ones for the disaster-affected people, and much needed rest for the first responders.
The many people in temporary shelter have a need for culturally appropriate activities that bring a sense of normalcy to their lives. Much of these activities are about resting, beginning to receive food on a regular basis, shelter and crisis communication that assures that the governmental safeguards and networks are in place. The disaster- affected people have been able to identify dear ones that are “no more” and burial rites are performed.
Children and adolescent should be able to receive some informal educational activities, and that there is a secure place for them to play, share their feelings and begin the emotional healing. Adults should have a space to grief their loss and to go back to their neighborhood where they may look among the rubble for familiar things, for a connection into the pre-disaster times, and can begin to participate in activities geared to clean-up, and reconstruction together with neighbors and others from their neighborhood.
Crisis communication has to provide accurate and timely information based on the cultural nuances of the society. Rituals, memorial activities, and other community activities should take place fairly soon, with participation from community members. Other cultural activities that foster grieving and a “new beginning” needed to begin taking place soon. Some examples, writing letters to the lost, visioning activities and acting them out, in addition to relaxation activities, and community dinners are all examples that will foster grieving and bring people together.
Finding out about dear ones, neighbors or friends are great morale boosters and serve to provide for emotional recovery. Reunification activities may include the use of posting photos through local TV, reading messages in local radio stations, and allowing the use of telephones and computers for disaster-affected people to contact others outside of the disaster area.
Teaching simple skills such as psychological first aid in the shelters may help for people to take care of each other emotional needs, simple activities as listening, may have great therapeutic values at this time. Identifying human capital in the shelters and affected areas may produce a body of neighbors that may assume valuable tasks in increasing communication, activity planning, and move the disaster-affected people from victims to being victorious.
Finally, the first responders need to stop and take some time off. They too have been affected, even if there is focus, discipline, and professionalism. Adequate meals, time off, group movement activities and exercise, and getting away for the destruction for some periods of time, may serve as energy boosters.