How to help disaster survivors cope with trauma

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Apart from looking for food and shelter, disaster survivors face another common problem during their recovery: trauma. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 5) — Apart from looking for food and shelter, disaster survivors face another common problem during their recovery: trauma.

Disaster victims often respond with “extreme fear” and other negative reactions when dealing with their situation, according to a social and community psychiatrist.

“You can compare it to someone with a regular crisis in life and magnify that like, ten times, twenty times over,” said Dr. Eleanor Ronquillo.

This amplifies the need for constant support and psychosocial interventions, she said.

Here are some ways you can help a disaster survivor cope with trauma:

Keep them company

Survivors cope better in group settings as they need to be reminded that they are not alone in their recovery.

“We bring that sense of community kasi [because] the situation has changed parang nagkawatak-watak sila [they seem to have scattered] so they still have to feel that belongingness to a community that will band together and deal with this crisis,” Ronquillo said.

The family is integral to this approach, she added, as it can serve as a strong support system.

Encourage dialogue

It is important for survivors to process their feelings and fears to help them move forward.

“It’s part of psychological first aid…that addressing them to talk about what happened, recognize their reactions, how they’re coping and what their plans are,” Ronquillo said.

Communities can achieve this by engaging in group therapy facilitated by trained volunteers.

“It could be like a preventive approach to further de-stress…It could be screening for those who would have more severe reactions,” explained Ronquillo.


Keeping a light atmosphere also helps survivors deal with the weight of their circumstances.

“To see the positive side of it, like transformation because the environment is now entirely different, it’s adjusting and adapting,” said Ronquillo.

This particularly helps children, who are the most vulnerable to trauma along with the elderly and persons with disabilities, Ronquillo said.

Some children who have experienced a strong earthquake for example, might panic at the slight shaking of the ground.

In order for parents to help their children recover, they must model resilience and strength.

“When the children seem to develop the fears, the family should be very reassuring,” said Ronquillo.