Philippines: Mental health psycho-social support (MHPSS) task force typhoon Ondoy - Bringing hope and comfort to victims and survivors

from Government of the Philippines
Published on 17 Nov 2009 View Original
Disasters, whether natural or man-made, involve an "encounter between forces of harm and a human population in harm's way, in which the demands of the situation exceed the coping capacity of the affected population." We hear almost daily the anxious accounts of the effects of disasters, such as earthquakes, typhoons, flooding, tornadoes, hurricanes, droughts and armed conflict.

Typhoons 'Ondoy,' 'Pepeng' and 'Santi,' which hit Metro Manila, Northern, Central and Southern Luzon on September 26, September 30 and October 29, respectively, left thousands of families homeless and destroyed livelihood and crops worth billions of pesos. The devastating effects of the disaster linger long after the floodwaters have ebbed and survivors begin their long trek to normalcy.

Psychologists explain that disasters and tragedies tax the human mind and spirit to the point of causing severe mental and emotional breakdowns. The loss of loved ones and sources of livelihood, such as businesses and farmlands affect survivors mentally and emotionally.

Timely assessment and intervention are essential to mitigate the victim's risk for ongoing distress, impairment and psychiatric illness.

Psychological first aid provided by the volunteers is an early intervention, implemented in the immediate aftermath of disaster, designed to reduce the initial distress and foster adaptive mechanism for survivors of all ages. Effective intervention restores function and enhances recovery; creates a safe and secure environment; reduces uncertainty, fear and anxiety; and mobilizes family and social supports. Evidence-based empirical studies have begun to define the most effective interventions for use throughout the post-impact period to sustain long-term recovery, Social Welfare and Development Secretary Esperanza I. Cabral explained.

To address the psychosocial concerns of the typhoon victims, a task force on Mental Health Psycho-Social Support (MHPSS) was formed headed by the Health Emergencies Management Staff of the Department of Health (DOH) as chair and lead agency based on Memorandum 15 series of 2008 issued by the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC), and the DSWD as co-chair. The secretariat is lodged with the office of Dr. Benny Vicente, Medical Director of the National Center for Mental Health (NCMH), ably supported by the U.P. College of Medicine, U.P. Network on Psychosocial Response and Citizens Network on Psycho-Social Response in Disasters (CNET-PSR) headed by Dr. June Pagaduan Lopez. The members of the Task Force come from national government agencies (NGAs), academe, non-government organizations and faith-based private sectors, with mental health and psycho-social support programs.

Some of the members of the MHPSS Task Force visited the children in evacuation centers in Marikina, Philippine Sports Arena (formerly ULTRA) and Bagong Silangan. The children listened to Bible stories told by the volunteers, learned songs and played games. Likewise, the volunteers encouraged the children to play with toys and draw pictures of their experiences.

According to Secretary Esperanza I. Cabral, the MHPSS Task Force conducted psychosocial training and orientation, psychosocial and psycho/spiritual processing, and critical incident stress debriefing to some 8,770 adult-victims of typhoon 'Ondoy' who were in evacuation centers, as well as play therapy sessions with 3,075 children-victims and 704 service providers and disaster relief workers.

"Individuals, especially children have different coping mechanisms when faced by calamities and tragedies, thus the approach used by the volunteers is critical in helping the victims move on," Secretary Cabral expounded.

Meanwhile, the United Nation Children's Fund (UNICEF) is allotting 1.2 million pesos for child protection initiatives which include provision of materials for the Child Friendly Spaces program.

"From October 1 to 27, nearly 600 volunteers generously contributed their time and resources to alleviate the anguish suffered by the victims and survivors," Secretary Cabral stated.

The DSWD appreciates all the support and resources provided by the volunteers. "Your efforts go a long way in helping a survivor towards recovery," Secretary Cabral ended.

(DSWD-Social Marketing Service)