Roughly three months have passed since a pair of massive earthquakes wreaked havoc on homes, schools and other major buildings in Oaxaca, Mexico. While devastated communities continue to recover and rebuild, what is less obvious to the eye is the emotional and psychological impact these natural disasters had on residents.
To help first responders cope with the trauma and to strengthen mental health systems for future emergencies, the Ministry of Health in Oaxaca, Mexico, partnered with Project Concern International (PCI) to carry out a “Psychological First Aid” training in November. PCI and Americares facilitated the two-day workshop for 50 mental health providers—including psychologists, counselors and social workers—from 6 jurisdictions in Oaxaca.
“Some lost loved ones or suffered severe damage to their homes yet were deployed as part of first responder teams in the Tehuantepec Isthmus of Oaxaca, where the main damage occurred,” said Dr. Blanca Lomeli, PCI’s Medical Director. “Many families are still living in shelters, many children are still unable to attend school and people are dealing with the emotional and financial aftermath.”
Lomeli said psychological first aid helps people cope with feelings that are common after a tragedy, including shock, confusion, fear, grief, guilt and anger. Other signs of post-traumatic stress are night terrors, difficulty sleeping and anxiety.
“For a while, I was really struggling with the first response,” said one participant, who had an opportunity to share her experience during a focus group conversation with Lomeli. “I had my young children and my elderly mother to take care of while being deployed to provide mental health services.”
In addition to assessing the needs and challenges of first responders post-emergency, facilitators also used the workshop to talk about communities’ mental health needs, children’s mental health needs and caring for the caregiver.
“After the earthquake, we were providing counseling to a woman who lost her husband during the earthquake and then a few days later lost her son,” one participant shared. “Mental health support is not the answer to these problems, but it is a very much-needed service. These tragic losses are too much for anyone to manage alone.”
To learn more about how PCI responded to record-breaking natural disasters in both Oaxaca, Mexico, and Rockport, Texas, this year, visit https://www.pciglobal.org/on-the-road-to-recovery/.