Demonstration on how to comfort disaster survivors
As responders raced to dig through the rubble of the September 2017 earthquakes in Mexico and treat the injured, a new challenge emerged as the dust began to settle—ensuring the mental health of the earthquake’s survivors. Thousands of individuals lost loved ones, experienced severe distress, and feared for their lives during the earthquakes, and with aftershocks tormenting communities for weeks after the initial disaster, many were left in a constant state of fear, anxiety and sadness.
While the National Institute of Psychiatry Ramón de la Fuente Muñiz in Mexico City and other partners provided over 52,000 psychological consultations to survivors in the first month after the earthquakes, many communities, especially in rural parts of the country, had little or no access to mental health or psychosocial support. Others simply lacked the knowledge or the resources to seek out the care they needed.
During International Medical Corps’ assessment in Oaxaca—one of Mexico’s poorest and hardest hit states—families reported that they were continuing to experience intense feelings of fear, nervousness, sadness and disturbances in their daily functioning in December, nearly four months after the earthquake.
“Since September 7, it has not stopped shaking” one community member told us. “We live in a state of psychosis now.”
To help ensure that vulnerable communities in Oaxaca have access to the mental health and psychosocial support they need, both today, and in preparation for future disasters, International Medical Corps partnered with a local organization to train 44 health providers, community leaders, and local key actors in Psychological First Aid. A proven approach to reducing the distress caused by crisis, Psychological First Aid helps children, adolescents, adults, and families cope with disaster through practical care and support, such as comforting individuals to help them feel calm, and connecting people with appropriate social support and services.
Due to the lack of available mental health services in Oaxaca, training local leaders in Psychological First Aid is a crucial step towards ensuring that local communities can be their own first responders in future disasters. Out of the 11 major municipalities in the state, two have no mental health professionals of any kind, and three only have access to psychologists with limited practical experience who come during their training rotations to work in health centers for a year. The only psychiatrist in the State is located in Oaxaca City, which can be as far as a seven-hour drive from some communities.
To reinforce this Psychological First Aid training, we worked with our local partner to raise awareness in Oaxacan communities on resilience mechanisms and the services and support available to survivors, reaching 454 adults and 532 school children. Moving forward, International Medical Corps is continuing to address the mental health needs of communities in Oaxaca by launching a Youth Empowerment Program to promote the resilience of adolescents, strengthening mental health referral mechanisms, providing psychosocial support to survivors, and more.
We thank the GlobalGiving community for their support of International Medical Corps as we continue to support the recovery and mental health of survivors of the September 2017 Mexico earthquakes.
Psychological First Aid training in Niltepec
Psychosocial awareness at a school in Tehuantepec