In-depth: Coping with crisis

Recovery is based on real security

NAIROBI, 10 November 2010 (IRIN) - How do earthquake survivors cope with the destruction of their homes: from the terror of the moment, when the building shakes and gives way, to the aftermath of picking through the debris of their lives? And what about those who have witnessed horrors, or endured brutality – how do they carry on, burdened with those memories?

In a word, resilience. Surviving a traumatic event does not mean psychological dysfunction will inevitably follow. According to Mike Wessels of the Columbia-based Global Technical Group on Psychosocial Well-being, it is a fiction that most people will need medical intervention to put their lives back together.

Reactions to - and symptoms of - stress vary. Some people have underlying conditions that may reduce their resilience, but generally, “When people who have been through a terrible ordeal feel safe, have shelter and access to food and water and have the basic means for survival, they can recover quite quickly,” says Alison Schafer, mental health and psychosocial support interest group coordinator for World Vision International.

"Trauma" itself might not be a helpful term; it suggests a medical approach, which neglects people’s broader psychosocial needs and the interventions required to meet them, according to the UN Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) guidelines on Mental Health and Psychological Support in Emergency Settings. For many survivors the most troubling aspect of disaster is not the event itself, but coping with day-to-day life afterwards. full report

HEALTH: Helping to put lives back together

Psychosocial support (PSS) is about helping survivors of disasters or crisis resume their regular lives. IRIN asked people involved in psychosocial work to describe what they do, how they determine progress, constraints to delivering this support, and how they measure their success. full report

LIBERIA: Surviving the past

The deep wounds on Joe Turner’s wrists and ankles were strangely golden – a result of the gentian violet antiseptic used to keep them clean by the nurses at ES Grant, Liberia’s only psychiatric hospital. full report

UGANDA: Former LRA combatants struggle for forgiveness

When Richard Odong was 10 he was stopped at gunpoint on his way to school, tied up with ropes and marched into Southern Sudan, where the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) trained him to fight, kidnap and kill. full report

SRI LANKA: Former child soldiers struggle for a normal life

Cheran was 15 when he was abducted into the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). He ran away two years later in January 2009. full report

GENDER: "Raped in Guinea, then raped again in Senegal"

On 28 September 2009 in a Guinea stadium, Djeneba* was raped by a soldier while another beat her head. Calling her a criminal and a whore, the men then shoved a wooden club into her vagina. “I was hanging between life and death.” full report

PAKISTAN: Trauma follows IDPs to camps

Two teenage girls peek out from a tent at the Muhammad Khwaja camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the town of Hangu, northwestern Pakistan, before quickly ducking back inside. Like many girls and women based at camps, tradition means they must remain within the shelter much of the day. full report

AFRICA: Five ways to reduce trauma in HIV orphans

When a child loses a parent to HIV/AIDS, grief counselling helps with the trauma of loss, but when the child is both poor and orphaned, the chances of a fulfilling life are significantly diminished. full report

Analysis: Are humanitarians learning the lessons from Haiti?

Listen to locals, tap into existing capacity, coordinate needs assessments, find strong leaders and provide transitional shelter - not just tents. These are some of the lessons to have emerged from the 2007 tsunami evaluation, numerous earthquake responses and the latest Haiti real-time evaluation, begging the question: when will the humanitarian community start applying these lessons learned. full report