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Giving emotional support to victims of violence

As 14-year-old year old boy, Ubaid (name changed) battled for life after being severely injured by a teargas shell in his abdomen, his family members gathered outside the ICU of Sri Maharaja Hari Singh, Memorial hospital, were shattered. A day in the hospital seemed like an eternity for them.

india Updated: Feb 05, 2010 14:26 IST
Toufiq Rashid

As 14-year-old year old boy, Ubaid (name changed) battled for life after being severely injured by a teargas shell in his abdomen, his family members gathered outside the ICU of Sri Maharaja Hari Singh, Memorial hospital, were shattered. A day in the hospital seemed like an eternity for them.

Emotional support came to them from an unexpected quarter -- MSF Holland, the only international aid agency working in the region providing health care and support in management of medical waste in the region. It decided to rush few counselors to the hospitals to talk to victims of violence.

"The morning papers said about 150 people were injured in violent clashes so we thought of providing mental health support to the injured as well as their family members, as it can leave them traumatized,” said Sasha Mattheuus, project coordinator Kashmir MSF.

In a study conducted in 2006, the MSF found that witnessing violence made a person susceptible to psychological distress. Anxiety, unhappiness, aggression are some of the symptoms that people who witnessed violence are prone to, the study said and added some could even become aggressive.

According to the study, 62 per cent of the respondents suffered from anxiety, 50 per cent said they were unhappy and 23 per cent withdrew themselves into isolation. Sixteen per cent of the respondents reported increased aggressiveness, the study pointed out. “Our experience in the valley has shown such incidents leave a great impact on the life of these people as well as their families,” Mattheuus added.

Most of the injured only need first aid and leave. But, barring the very seriously injured, most people prefer to leave the hospital even without being officially discharged.

Mathheuus and his counselors could just find a few - all of them severely injured. Among the injured were two boys who were declared out of danger only after 24 hours of hospitalization. Besides Ubaid there was another boy who was hit by rubber bullets in the face and head.

Mir Behjat, the counselor, a local boy working with the organization for two and a half years, says a half an hour session seemed to have helped the family. "The boy was not in a position that we could have talked directly about the incident. The mother was really shattered and was crying. We just listen to them which helps in situations like this,” Ahmad added.

The counselors also told the family about the symptoms such as flashbacks, nightmares which the young boy can experience. "We insisted that they should get him to seek help once he recovers. We also told the family about our services,” he added.

MSF, which has counselors in all the major hospitals, plans to undertake more such interactions following an increase in violence in the valley in the recent past. "We did a similar thing during the Amarnath land row but we should be making it a regular feature now,” added Mattheuus.