Resilience, more than reliving experience, crucial for disaster survivors
It’s been a year since the Super Typhoon “Yolanda/ Haiyan” hit the country and killed more than 6,000 and affected 16 million. Many of the survivors are still displaced, living in bunkhouses without prospects for employment.
Rosa’s family of eight lives in a 25-square meter bunkhouse with no furniture except for a small table that has meager belongings—plates, glasses, a pot for cooking, a couple of containers for food. She tells us that sleep is still difficult.
Their walls are paper-thin and they are privy to fights of neighbors.
With families forced to live in confined spaces and with lack of employment, tensions are high, conflicts frequent.
With nothing to do, men try to drown their misery by turning to alcohol—another cause of discord in the community.
By now, many of the volunteers and aid agencies are gone. Rehabilitation has been slow and focused on infrastructure and livelihood.
The World Health Organization recently estimated that about 800,000 survivors are still suffering from mental health problems. If not attended to, people may develop full-blown post-traumatic stress disorder.
Recent studies on disaster response have stressed the need to move away from debriefing where people are asked to relive their experiences. Instead, there is greater emphasis on developing resilience and coping skills.
Resilience describes the ability of individuals to bounce back from stress and adversity.
Studies show that it can be nurtured by helping survivors: 1) make connections; 2) reframe the crisis as a solvable problem; 3) accept inevitable changes; 4) move towards goals; 5) take decisive action; 6) seek opportunities of self-discovery; 7) nurture a positive view of self; 8) keep things in perspective; 9) maintain a hopeful outlook; and 10) take care of one’s self.
The Katatagan program
In February this year, the Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU) Department of Psychology sponsored a workshop for members of the Psychological Association of the Philippines (PAP) to develop a psychosocial intervention for Filipino survivors.
In the workshop, psychologists involved in disaster response to Yolanda identified survivors’ needs and designed a program to provide resilience skills to Filipinos still struggling during the recovery phase of a disaster.
The Katatagan program consists of six modules: Pagpapanday ng Kalakasan, or finding and cultivating strengths; Paghahanap ng Kalutasan at Kaagapay, or seeking solutions and support; Pangangalaga sa Katawan, or managing physical reactions; Pagsasaayos ng Kalooban at Isipan, or managing thoughts and emotions; Pagsasagawa ng Kapakipakinabang na Gawain, or engaging in regular and positive activities; and Pag-usad sa Kinabukasan, or moving forward.
The program was pilot-tested in three areas.
ADMU sent a clinical psychology doctoral intern and partnered with the University of the Philippines Tacloban Psychology Department to run the program among their student survivors.
ADMU also sent an intern to Zamboanga in partnership with Ateneo de Zamboanga University to run the intervention among those who were displaced by the siege.
PAP, in partnership with Health Futures, Inc., sent its members to run the program in various communities in Samar.
The results have been encouraging.
The programs in Tacloban and Zamboanga targeted people who were highly anxious and depressive. After going through the program, participants’ anxiety and depressive symptoms were lower than survivors who did not go through the program.
They also reported better coping skills. In Samar, community members who went through the program reported better self-efficacy in managing themselves and their situation.
Given the results, we have begun to train facilitators of Katatagan. Recently, a team went to Legaspi to train community workers assisting in the evacuation centers.
We are exploring partnerships with institutions and groups who wish to be trained and who can facilitate the program for survivors.
Beyond this, we are looking to develop resilience programs for children whose reactions and coping are quite different from adults. And because survival isn’t just about the individual, there is need for psychosocial interventions for families and communities.
There has been much hype about the resilience of the Filipino. Yet as the World Health Organization report suggests, the enormity of Yolanda is putting this resilience to the test.
Although our people do have inner strengths, some need help in rediscovering these strengths and developing better ways of coping. The road to recovery remains a long one—even a year after the disaster.
Ma. Regina Hechanova, Ph.D, is the chair of the Ateneo Psychology Department and past-president of the Psychological Association of the Philippines. For inquiries, she may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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