Sunday, June 24, 2007

Depression hits mudflow victims

Wednesday, June 13, 2007
The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The results of a psychiatric survey have revealed an increasing trend toward mental health problems among victims of the Lapindo mudflow in Sidoarjo, East Java.

The survey of some 3,000 mudflow victims who have taken refuge in Pasar Baru Porong in Sidoarjo was conducted early this month by a team of psychiatrists from the Surabaya branch of the Indonesian Mental Health Doctors Association. It found symptoms of chronic depression among the victims.

"The mudflow is different from the tsunami in Aceh or the earthquake in Yogyakarta because it is continuously happening and nobody knows when it is going to stop. Unlike depression among the tsunami or earthquake victims, depression among the mudflow victims is chronic and progressive. This is exacerbated by the uncertainty of the government's response," Dr. Nalini from the psychiatric association told a seminar held by the Indonesian Doctors Association on Tuesday.

She said the victims complained of anxiety, sadness and sleep problems, which in turn could lead to a deepening of the depression caused by the loss of their personal effects.

"These problems should have been resolved in the early months of the disaster. The lack of treatment has led to a chronic depression," Nalini said.

The team also found signs of psychosomatic illnesses such as high blood pressure, a reduced appetite, oversensitivity and frequent quarreling between family members, as well as increasing marital problems such as divorce, infidelity and prostitution.

Nalini said the depression among the victims is lowering their quality of life, which is partly apparent in decreases in their "fighting spirit".

"They have been coopted by their feelings of powerlessness. They are only waiting for aid and cannot empower themselves. They are also becoming paranoid, easily provoked and influenced by any agitation. This is not only happening in Sidoarjo, but also in Aceh and Yogyakarta to some extent," she added.

Nalini accused the government of putting the nation's health status at great risk by repeatedly leaving many cases unresolved.

She said that rather than leave the mudflow case in the hands of PT Lapindo Brantas, the government should take over.

"The key is in the government's hands. PT Lapindo is obviously guilty, but the government is the regulator. It is the government that should be responsible for the people. They shouldn't wait until the situation explodes like a time bomb," she said.

Dr. Fachmi Idris, chairman of the Indonesian Doctors Association, told the discussion that health encompasses not only physical factors, but also mental and social factors.

Citing the World Health Organization's definition, Fachmi said: "Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing, and not merely an absence of disease or infirmity."

Having made slow responses and partial approaches to many manmade and natural disasters, the government has only created more social and mental health problems, Fachmi said. (02)

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