A disaster of any kind, has potential outcomes concerning everyone affected by it. Such effects can be in terms of health, economy or psychology. And whether it is short-term or long-term, they always induce serious changes in people’s lives. Thus, when an earthquake becomes a disaster, numerous impacts occur and affect a big population. In that population, vulnerable groups are more likely to recover slower than others. A considerable part of these groups is consisted of children, mainly because of other dangers they face after the earthquake and the fact that they don’t have full control nor understanding over what is happening to them. Furthermore, since the safeguarding systems in a country take some time to develop and settle at the early stages of a crisis, the risk of children being abused or exploited drastically increases. Considering all these aspects, their mental well-being is also challenged as well as their physical well-being. To support their full recovery as much as we can, the first thing to make sure of, is to fully understand their situation and act accordingly later on.
As of today, millions of children are affected by natural disasters around the world. And many researches based on these children show that even several years into their recovery, as many as %50 of them experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms such as sleep problems, ongoing stress and fear, severe irritability, reliving the earthquake over and over again, etc. Mentioned symptoms might affect the quality of life in long term if it’s left neglected. As children of very young ages don’t usually have any experience in recovering from disasters or facing hardships, they need assistance to cope. If possible, with help from a parent or at best, a professional, the outcomes affecting children’s daily basis can be minimized or even eradicated which would effectively help them reach their full potential again.
trajectories of PTSD symptoms among children who survived the Lushan Earthquake, Image by: ScienceDirect
To make necessary mental health services available for children in need, many organizations and volunteers have been doing their best by acting collectively and globally. A good example to this took place in Haiti, right after the earthquake in 2021 when UNICEF offered professional assistance to young adolescents affected by the disaster, to ensure their full recovery.
Other common psychological consequences of earthquakes are anxiety and depression. According to conducted researches, one of the most frequent symptoms is “excessive alertness”. As children of a very young age may not have a full understanding of the situation, the moment of earthquake can cause them to panic and feel under stress. As a result, they are likely to be triggered by a simple sound or an elevated noise that reminds them of a traumatic moment, later on in their lives. Or else, the child might avoid repeating the action that they were doing during the earthquake. For example if they are caught in an earthquake while sleeping, this can result in insomnia or any kind of sleeping disorder. Also, videos or photos taken from the earthquake can be triggering for children. Especially in such times, many videos of them being pulled out from the rubble or being encouraged to answer questions to the public or press, can cause the individual to relive their traumatic experience. If all stated impacts continue for a long period of time, it is best to seek professional help. However, another thing that can be done by anyone, is making sure that they now feel safe as it can be challenging because of all previously mentioned threats that they might have been under.
Lastly, it is further known that earthquakes mostly provoke absenteeism and result in learning difficulties. In areas where the earthquakes are disastrous, schools are also destroyed. Even when the physical ability to attend school is provided, children go through an adaptation process. Throughout this period of time, it’s common to observe challenges in learning which can be eradicated by special aid to accelerate recovery.
To conclude, there are many psychological impacts of a traumatic earthquake, most frequent ones being mentioned previously. Additionally, it’s best to bear in mind the fact that every recovery process is different and personal as well as the experience itself. The improvement may not always be smooth and unobstructed in these times, however, full recovery is possible with right methods of assistance at the right time.
Edited by: Bilge Öztürk
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Trajectories of Ptsd symptoms among children who survived the Lushan earthquake. (2019). ScienceDirect. Retrieved February 21, 2023, from Trajectories of PTSD symptoms among children who survived the Lushan earthquake: A four-year longitudinal study.