Xiao Shi and Xiao He, both survivors injured in Saturday's terrorist attack in China's Kunming, are being treated in the same hospital ward. But there was a stark difference between the two on Tuesday morning.
Eighteen-year-old Xiao Shi, with a knife wound to his back, was seen talking and laughing with his family. Meanwhile, his 19-year-old fellow patient, who sustained neck injuries, remained silent.
They had one thing common: The pair told doctors they had forgotten details about the bloodshed.
Their reaction provoked concerns. Li Jinman, a psychological consultant, said, "They have chosen to wipe out the traumatic memory."
The reaction was a manifestation of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and needed to be addressed with professional assistance, she added.
A stabbing rampage on Saturday night claimed 29 lives and injured 143 others at the railway station of Kunming, capital of southwestern Yunnan Province and dubbed the Spring City for its balmy weather and beautiful landscape.
Three days after the terrorist attack marked the best time to begin mental health interventions, said Li, with Yunnan Provincial Psychological Society.
On Monday afternoon, three workers from the society started to survey the mental health conditions of the survivors at Kunming No. 1 People's hospital, where Xiao Shi and Xiao He were being treated, preparing for future one-to-one PTSD therapy.
The survey found survivors had shown various symptoms of PTSD, including recurring thoughts of the crime scene, selective amnesia, grief, anxiety, depression, irritability, lack of interest and silence.
More than 30 psychoanalysts will provide psychological support to bereaved families, witnesses and other local residents affected by the incident, in addition to the injured.
"The government has set up work teams to handle the aftermath concerning families of the victims and we will dispatch a mental health worker to each work team," said Wang Haijing, vice president of the Red Cross Society of China (RCSC).
On Tuesday, the organization's Yunnan branch launched mental care services via two hotlines, with 12 psychological consultants on duty.
Some parents said on the phone that their children were too scared to leave home after being exposed to media coverage of the attack, said Li. "We should keep children away from the floods of negative information."
In addition to the experts, dozens of volunteers with professional certificates have also signed up to help.
"People have different defensive responses in the wake of a harrowing experience, which requires us to be particularly patient and careful," said Tao Yun, head of the society.
"The recovery process for some may last 10 years, 20 years or even throughout life," Tao added.
Wang said the importance of psychological assistance was increasingly acknowledged in China after a devastating earthquake left more than 85,000 people dead or missing in Sichuan Province in 2008.
Mental health interventions targeting those affected by terrorist attacks differ from assistance delivered after natural disasters, said Wang, who said it was the first time the RCSC has provided psychological support after an incident like the Kunming attack.
But experience can be drawn from the practices of our U.S. counterparts after 9/11, Wang said.
"With the help of advanced international experience in this respect, I believe we will be more skilled and mature this time, compared with our performance after the Sichuan earthquake," Tao said. (Xiao Shi and Xiao He are pseudonyms for privacy concerns)