“We are sophomore students in Danwon High School. At the same time, we are the survivors of ‘Sewol ferry accident’. Although some people think that we would be all right because two months have passed after the tragedy occurred, actually, we feel guilty for eating, sleeping, laughing and chatting whenever we recall our friends who could not get out. Sometimes, multiple feelings are expressed at the same time. We are shedding tears while holding our sides with laughter. Suddenly we become depressed, and soon just smile. When you watch us laughing and making jokes in the street, don’t look at us in a very strange way, please. Please don’t think that we are really okay.”
On April 16, 2014, the Sewol ferry sunk and 293 passengers, including Danwon high school students, died. They were not rescued because of poor initial countermeasures. The families of the deceased have been in deep sorrow since the tragedy.
However, as much, survivors are mentally suffering. The letter above is from a sophomore of Danwon High School who came back alive but couldn’t get out of the grief. Because they are immature students still, they go through psychological traumas much more. It may affect teenagers’ development of individuality if not treated immediately. It is called POSTTRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER.
When in danger, it’s natural to feel afraid. This fear triggers many split-second changes in the body to prepare to defend itself against the danger or to avoid it. This ‘fight-or-flight’ response is a healthy reaction meant to protect a person from harm. But in post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD for short), this reaction is changed and damaged. People who have PTSD may feel stressed or frightened even when they’re no longer in danger. PTSD develops after a terrifying ordeal that involved physical harm or the threat of physical harm. The person who develops PTSD may have been the one who was harmed, or the harm may have happened to a loved one, or the person may have witnessed an event that happened to the loved one. PTSD can result from a variety of traumatic incidents, such as mugging, rape, being kidnapped, car accidents, terror, or natural disasters such as floods or earthquakes.
Each person with PTSD has different symptoms. For some patients who suffer re-experiencing symptoms, there can be flashbacks which make the sufferers relive the trauma over and over, including physical symptoms like a racing heart or sweating. Avoidance symptoms may cause a person to stay away from places, events, or objects that are reminders of the experience, so literally, they avoid areas or things. Hyperarousal symptoms may make it hard to do daily tasks, such as sleeping, eating, or concentrating. This is because they make the person feel stressed and angry, or feel ‘on edge’ such as an assault incident on September 17th that the five bereaved of Sewol ferry and a member of the National Assembly attacked a designated driver and pedestrians due to ‘snapping’ from being on edge. This kind of aggressive and violent behaviors could be exhibited partly due to PTSD.
The main treatments for people with PTSD are psychotherapy, so-called ‘talk’ therapy, with medications. Psychotherapy involves talking with a mental health professional to treat a mental illness in one-on-one or in a group. Many types of psychotherapy can help people with PTSD. One helpful therapy is called cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT. There are several parts of CBT. Exposure therapy helps people face and control their fear. It exposes them to the trauma they experienced in a safe way. It uses mental imagery, writing, or visits to the place where the event happened. The therapist uses these tools to help people with PTSD cope with their feelings. Cognitive restructuring helps people make sense of the bad memories. Sometimes people remember the event differently than how it happened. They may feel guilt or shame about what is not their fault. The therapist helps people with PTSD look at what happened in a realistic way. Stress inoculation training tries to reduce PTSD symptoms by teaching a person how to reduce anxiety. This treatment helps people look at their memories in a healthy way.
In the case of the United States, the National Center for PTSD was established in 1989 for Vietnam War veterans, and ever since the 9/11 terror occurred, it started to support treatment for trauma with more concern. The terror threw New York citizens into a state of fear. The twin building of the World Trade Center that had symbolized the US economy collapsed, which killed and injured thousands people. Right after the 9/11 terror, one out of ten Manhattan residents turned out to be assailed by nightmares, insomnia, anxiety, and anger. Especially for the surrounding area inhabitants, the rate was doubled. New York City has still conducted the list of hospitals that not only the victims, but the witnesses can receive psychotherapy for free. The federal government of the US had organized a committee consisted of experts from each field and observed and investigated the victims for ten years. The data formed the basis for the related bill. The important point is that the US PTSD center is not forcing people to come to, but visit them one by one, listen to which difficulty they have, and support the very thing that they really need.
On September 5th, five months had passed after the tragedy of Sewol ferry, and the Ministry of Health and Welfare opened Ansan Onmaeum Center for the bereaved family to get the proper psychotherapy individually or in group. While these efforts are expanding, the survivors of Sewol ferry now are getting back to normal. They, as before, eat, sleep, laugh and chat in their daily life. As they asked, ‘Please don’t say anything like “Are you okay?” “Cheer up!” or “Thank you.” Please take away your eyes that have pity on us.’ With some help for them to know the way to get proper treatment, they can get out of post traumatic stress, and finally go through post traumatic growth.
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