Ten months on: qualitative assessment of psychosocial issues in northern Sri Lanka following the tsunami

We were also concerned about the psychological effect of this desire to help, on both the tsunami-affected people and the volunteers, and were aware of some volunteers who experienced severe and acute stress reactions in response to traumatic experiences such as witnessing the aftermath of the tsunami or disposing of dead bodies. As psychiatrists working directly with people affected by the tsunami, and as supervisors of the counsellors and psychosocial workers who were visiting the welfare centres, we made the following observations about the impact of the tsunami. Many of those providing practical or psychosocial help to the affected people expressed satisfaction (and some even elation) at being able to help and in the community there was a general wish to visit the tsunami-affected areas, even when this was not strictly necessary. We were surprised by the number of volunteers wanting to carry out psychosocial activities, and were concerned that some went to the affected communities offering ‘counselling’ despite not having any psychosocial skills or training. Some aspects of the systems put in place after the tsunami to deliver aid seemed to lead to more difficulties for the affected people. Vivo, a psychosocial NGO working in Sri Lanka, carried out a brief survey of 71 children (aged 8–15) 3–4 weeks after the tsunami. These were directed towards nature or the gods, at family members (e.g. parents blaming each other for the deaths of children), or at outside agencies, such as the government or staff in welfare centres.

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