Doctors tend mental scars of disasters in Indian state

K Rajendran –
Divakaran, 65, stood beside the road where his sister and three other family members were killed when a landslide caused by heavy rains demolished their house almost a year ago. “Even after 11 months, the mortal remains of my sister have not yet been recovered. Still I am afraid to hear the sound of rain,” he said in Upputhodu village of Kerala state’s Idukki district in southern India.
This month, Idukki has again been battered by torrential monsoon rains and landslides that killed at least five people and forced about 1,400 to evacuate to shelters, known locally as relief camps.
This year’s danger hit an area, alongside other parts of the ecologically fragile Western Ghats mountains, where local people had yet to recover from the trauma and stress they experienced from the disaster in August 2018.
That was the worst recorded in local history, with 51 deaths and destruction estimated at 2.1 billion rupees (almost $30 million). But the damage was also reflected in a jump in the number of people suffering mental health problems. In the year to July 2019, the Idukki District Mental Health Programme saw 4,678 patients, up about 25 per cent on the previous year.
“It has been found that the flood has caused various mental ailments. Depression and anxiety were mostly prevalent. This is the reason for the rise in the number of patients,” said Amal Abraham, a doctor with the programme.
The tiny, picturesque mountain village of Upputhodu has again been lashed by severe rains this month, in a place where many still bear the mental scars of the flash flood a year ago.
Divakaran was diagnosed as suffering from “adjustment disorder”, a condition that causes feelings of sadness and hopelessness after unexpected disasters. He has now improved after receiving medication and counselling, said Joe Sunny, a mental health doctor at Thiruvananthapuram Medical College.
Thaghachan, 60, also underwent treatment for psychological problems after the 2018 disaster. “I am afraid to hear even the noise of an aeroplane flying over our village,” he said. “It brings back horrible memories of last year’s disastrous landslide.”
Nine in 10 villagers in Upputhodu who spoke to the Thomson Reuters Foundation over two days in late July appeared to be still haunted by the after-effects of what they experienced.
P Geetha, a state-employed social health activist who has been keeping in regular touch with families in Upputhodu, said 42 out of 250 homes in the village were vacant. “They all migrated due to relentless stress,” she said. — Thomson Reuters Foundation