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Counseling experts say speed is of the essence

(China Daily)

08:06, April 24, 2013

A group of children play games at a psychological aid site in Lushan county, Sichuan province, on Tuesday. Through the training, volunteers want to encourage the children to be optimistic and confident. (CUI MENG / CHINA DAILY)

Psychological help should be offered as soon as possible to people affected by last weekend's earthquake in Ya'an, Sichuan province, according to a senior mental health specialist.

Xi Yingjun, director of the psychological crisis intervention and stress management center at Beijing An Ding Hospital, Capital Medical University, who specializes in mental health, said that since the last major quake to hit the country — the 8.0-magnitude Wenchuan earthquake in 2008, also in Sichuan — emergency relief teams have paid a lot more attention to the mental health responses offered in disaster areas.

Shen Ji, the provincial health chief of Sichuan, said on Monday that mental health intervention will be a major task ahead for the current quake-affected areas.

Mental health specialists have been arriving in Ya'an from around the country to offer professional counseling to survivors and others affected by the disaster, he said.

According to Xi, who has traveled to Ya'an along with two colleagues, the work should focus primarily on vulnerable groups like the injured, surviving family members of quake victims, the old, children, women and the disabled.

In addition, those working closely on disaster relief efforts "including soldiers and front-line medical workers should be given timely psychological help", he told China Daily on Tuesday.

Those exposed to tragic scenarios and distressing scenes, particularly during rescues and medical treatment, were in great need of psychological counseling on how to cope emotionally, he said.

In the early stages of psychological intervention, proper and timely services can help stabilize those living and working in the area, he said.

He added there are three stages of on-site counseling for people affected — observing, listening and connecting.

Service providers usually watch and listen first to understand sufferers' background, their current condition both physically and mentally, and assess their actual needs, he said.

"Psychological intervention should then be delivered once a person's physical safety is fully secured," he added.

Efforts could then be made to ensuring they rebuild their social lives.

"Mutual support within any community which is suffering helps build individual mental resilience to coping with stress after a disaster," he said, highlighting group work and games as useful coping mechanisms.

"Careful assessment should always be carried out first, to help guide the intervention measures," he added.

"At the moment, sufferers need listening, patience and company rather than someone telling them what to do," he said.

Ramsey A. Rayyis, the American Red Cross country representative for China, agreed with Xi's assessment of what mental support is needed, adding that he fells sufferers most needed someone to listen to them.

"Quake relief is not just about giving food, clothes and shelter, but attending to the psychological well-being of the victims of the disaster," he said.

Touching moments:

Daily life of quake victims in Sichuan

High school students prepare for exam in tent

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Soldiers bring hope to earthquake-hit region

First night after deadly earthquake

Rescuers work hard at quake-hit area in Sichuan

>>>Quake-hit China grows in pain

The principle of sparing no efforts to save lives cannot be more stressed. No minute or even second should be delayed during the "golden rescue period" in the first 72 hours after the quake.

>>>Pilot cancels wedding to participate in quake relief

When the 7.0-magnitude quake happened, Zhang Shangnian, a pilot from an aviation brigade of Chengdu Military Region, was about to hold his wedding.

>>>Nurse returns to work after losing mother

Just likes other medical staff, she was busy with rescuing people injured in the earthquake in SW China, but no one knew her mother just died in the quake.

>>>Wedding ceremony without bridegroom held on schedule

Zhuo Jia, the bridegroom, is a solider of the Chengdu Military Region; he had to leave his beautiful bride behind to participate in earthquake relief.

>>>An injured girl's smile moves many

"Your smile makes the entire world beautiful,” a photo of a smiling girl with bandage on her head has moved so many Chinese netizens.

>>>Teenager saves mom with his bare hands

The mother moves away a precast slab weighing over 50 kilograms alone to save her son in the earthquake. She said she did not know where her strength came from.

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