Floods, a psychological perspective | Pakistan Today

Floods, a psychological perspective

How natural disasters can lead to deep emotional disorders

It is the fourth consecutive year that large swathes of the country have been submerged in water. Each year the government fails to take effective precautionary and preventive measures. While the primary focus after such disasters remains flood relief, rehabilitation and monetary compensation, a crucial element that often remains ignored is the psychological trauma which accompanies such disasters. A major contributing factor is the ineffective water infrastructure on the Indus river and its tributaries, which substantially damages us both socially and psychologically. Apart from the annual monsoon rains, it can be said that the floods are anthropogenic ie they are caused by careless planning of water resources.

Natural disasters are sudden and overwhelming which causes shock and denial among the victims that is later accompanied by extreme traumatic stress. The American Psychological Association describes trauma as “an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster.” The types of experiences are insidious because they traumatise large populations at once and result in epidemics of survivor guilt and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms.

This type of event has various dimensions and affects the perceptions of the victims in ways that not everybody can comprehend. The floods every year have long term implications on the sufferers in respect to social, emotional and psychological aspects. The natural disasters vary widely in the amount and the nature of the stress they involve: duration; loss of life, personal injury, injury to loved ones, property damage, terror, helplessness, gruesome sights, sounds and smells, dislocation from one’s home, and availability of social support. These all are post disaster effects and considered to be dangerous in many circumstances.

Flood victims are vulnerable to many psychological issues such as posttraumatic stress disorder accompanied mainly with depression and anxiety, sleeping disorders, fear, stress, helplessness and hopelessness

Flood victims are vulnerable to many psychological issues such as posttraumatic stress disorder accompanied mainly with depression and anxiety, sleeping disorders, fear, stress, helplessness and hopelessness. Psychological research has shown that natural disasters can cause serious mental health consequences be they earthquakes, floods, fires, hurricanes, tornadoes, etc. The more stressful the situation is, the more vulnerability there is of succumbing to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) coupled with depression. PTSD is the most commonly identified disorder that occurs after exposure to a traumatic event. It is characterised by re-experiencing of the traumatic event, avoidance, numbing and hyper arousal. Symptoms need to be present for at least one month and cause clinically significant distress or impairment in functioning to fulfil criteria for PTSD clearly seen in the flood victims. Depression is the second most commonly observed psychological disorder in survivors of disasters followed by various problems with anxiety (Norris, Friedman, Watson, Byrne, Diaz, & Kaniasty, 2002).

Emotional consequences of such disasters are directly proportional to the level of stress. The floods in Pakistan have become a constant stressor since a long time now and there is also a strong sense of unpredictability and uncontrollability among the affected people. Both these factors are more severe because no one can qualitatively envisage or manage the natural disasters, hence creating a more critical post disastrous environment. It is commonly seen in the aftermath of a disaster, the ongoing stressors which survivors’ experiences amalgamate their reactions. Relocation, loss of employment, emotional and physical pain, and financial loss are some of the post disaster effects that survivors endure.

Apart from providing all the basic necessities to the flood victims, the government should collaborate with the psychiatrists and psychologists of the country and devise an intervention plan

It is seen in researches over the years by (eg, Gibbs, 1989, 1991, Green & Solomon, 1995; Katz, Pellegrino, Pandya, Ng, & DeList, 2002; Sundin & Horowitz, 2003) that post disaster effects are greater and more pervasive.

People living in the flood affected areas in Pakistan are sufferers since 2010 which makes them a paradigm of pre-existing psychopathology ie individuals who suffer from a psychological disorder are more susceptible to further distress in the aftermath of a disaster increasing the likelihood of post-existing psychopathology. The psychological trauma in these victims is embedded deeply in their minds and the post disaster effects are multifaceted and severe and have engulfed the entire community.

Due to an increase in mass causalities and panic caused by floods every year, a systematic intervention plan is needed for the victims as well an efficient water infrastructure. An effective disaster plan should be prepared which should be implemented by the state to ensure the safety of its citizens. In any disastrous scenario, stress is the major cause of negative psychopathology and the best way to get rid of the psychosocial trauma is by eradicating stress completely from the environment. This is a primary prevention and it applies a great deal to disasters as it places psychology directly in the process of emergency awareness.

Apart from providing all the basic necessities to the flood victims, the government should collaborate with the psychiatrists and psychologists of the country and devise an intervention plan whose basic aim should be focusing on the victims’ psychological issues, social support seeking, coping with the traumatic event and its post disastrous effects on their health. A secondary prevention should also be identified which mainly includes identifying people at risk and intervening to assist them. This prevention is also known as crisis intervention, an attempt to reduce the stress at the time of the chaotic situation. The crisis is a turning point and victims need sufficient psychological assistance to cope successfully and enhance their ability to survive the calamity that befalls them every year.



3 Comments

  1. Adnan Khan said:

    Ayesha nice to read your article. I am currently doing my thesis on floods. Your topic can be a new problem statement on which thesis can be done separably. But i can add it as an information in my thesis.

  2. Nimalan said:

    Good article. Bringing resilience and its dynamics into the post disaster context could be vital I guess. Nimalan.

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