Mental scars can remain - even after flood waters recede

Flood victims, Amran Ramli, 55, (right) spends some time with his daughter Farisya Atiliana, 1 as their family rebuilds their lives in Temerloh, Pahang

Flood victims, Amran Ramli, 55, (right) spends some time with his daughter Farisya Atiliana, 1 as their family rebuilds their lives in Temerloh, Pahang

PETALING JAYA: Natural disasters leave devastation in their wake. Lives are lost, homes are destroyed and in many cases, even when the physical damage is repaired, scars can still remain.

This is because victims often have no time to prepare, physically or mentally for the hardships natural disasters can bring, according to clinical psychologist Dr Joel Low

“This can cause significant mental distress,” said Low, who is with The Mind Psychological Services and Training.

The Star Online had asked him about the psychological impact disasters such as the recent floods that hit Malaysia’s east coast states.

Low added that those who have to start from scratch after having their entire lives swept away may be at high risk of suffering from depression.

He said that when we are confronted with physical or emotional pain, we either have the option of confronting the pain and feeling it head-on or trying to block it.

Low also added that many people have strong emotional or physical reactions following a traumatic event, with some resorting to suicide as a way to escape.

“Being forced to endure significant difficulties for extended periods makes suicide seem attractive because it acts as a way to end suffering once and for all,” said Low.

But how rough was the suffering in the recent floods? The account of Kelantan flood victim Nusrat Mohammad lends us some insight.

“At 2am the water was already inside the house up to my waist. My husband and I had to carry our babies and walk through the waters to our neighbour’s home" said Nusrat.

Nusrat, who was in Kelantan to visit her parents added that she was very frightened, and her neighbour’s home was very far away from where she was staying.

"There was no power, no electricity, my phone had no battery and our friends and family were worried that they didn't get any updates from us,” said Nusrat.

Nusrat, who was one of the thousands affected by the floods said that while there was a chance of flooding every year, the extent of the damage is always unpredictable.

“We have no warning as to how bad it may be. It is very devastating and difficult to hear of all the lives lost,” said Nusrat.

The floods claimed the lives of at least 21 people and saw an estimated 200,000 forced out of their homes.

Meanwhile, consultant psychiatrist Datuk Dr Andrew Mohanraj explained that people will have different reactions to traumatic events, and that most people could recover.

Mohanraj said this recovery was possible with the support of family and friends, and that most people would recover without significant long-term problems.

He added that Malaysians have developed a laid-back attitude to natural disasters because the country is relatively safe from such incidents.

Mohanraj also said that many people have found relief from their depression or emotional challenges through psychological or psychiatric therapy.

And in fact, experts with the National Crisis Preparedness and Response Centre have been providing this counselling to flood victims.

“We help victims by talking through the difficulty that they have gone through, and with processing the emotions they are experiencing,” said Mohanraj.