While earthquakes cause great physical destruction in and around the place where they occur, they also leave deep psychological effects on the whole society, especially on those who directly experienced the earthquake. Near East University Hospital Yeniboğaziçi Clinical Psychologist Deniz Aykol Ünal gave information about the psychological effects of the earthquake on adults and children, and made important suggestions about how to communicate with children who experienced the earthquake or who were affected by the earthquake images they were exposed to in the media through the speeches of adults.
“Earthquake is an unpredictable natural event and it is expected that our level of anxiety will increase in the face of situations that we cannot foresee and control. Acute and chronic processes, detrimental effects on mental health may occur in adults and children who have experienced or indirectly experienced natural disasters. We cannot be expected to react normally to abnormal events.” Near East University Hospital Yeniboğaziçi Clinical Psychologist Deniz Aykol Ünal said, “Just like the earthquake disaster that occurred recently and caused great destruction, in this process, there is a lot of work for mental health professionals who are experts in their fields for the relief of abnormal reactions and for mental treatment.”
Earthquake trauma can cause behavioral changes in children!
Psychologist Deniz Aykol Ünal, who said that the most obvious effects observed in children and young people after traumas experienced after the earthquake may be sleep disorders, nightmares, night fears, waking up screaming or crying from sleep, loss of appetite, reluctance to eat, or the desire to eat excessively, pointed out that, in addition, behavioral changes such as aggressive behavior towards friends or siblings, excessive silence, or hyperactivity, especially seen in young children, may also occur.
Aykol Ünal says, “Most children may also experience a return to a previous stage of their lives by losing their developmental gains, which we refer to as regression. There may be speech disorders, stuttering, or baby-like features in speech.” Psychologist Deniz Aykol Ünal further said; “In addition to these, behavioral changes such as separation anxiety, inability to be separated from a parent or caregiver, and not to be alone may develop. Especially in infants and young children, unexplained crying crises, startles due to sudden noises, and extreme fear of thunder and lightning can be seen. Some young children, on the other hand, may feel guilty, thinking that the earthquake was due to a ‘mistake’ they made. The inability to play, or the repetition of the themes of earthquake and death in their play, may be seen in young children at the age of play. In older children and young people, discomfort from talking about the moment of the disaster, the desire to open the subject again and again for no reason, or complaints of pain and nausea for which an organic reason cannot be found can be observed.”
How should we explain the earthquake to children?
Near East University Hospital Yeniboğaziçi Clinical Psychologist Deniz Aykol Ünal said, “When talking to children who have experienced the earthquake directly or indirectly affected by the earthquake, we should be careful to explain it in accordance with their age groups. Because the minds of preschool children cannot process information abstractly, the earthquake tells them about this situation as much as possible. We have to explain it concretely. Events, that we do not know and cannot make sense of, frighten us and increase our level of anxiety. As with death and other natural disasters, our statement about an earthquake should be appropriate for the child’s age and developmental level. When talking about earthquakes, we should prefer simple and correct expressions as much as possible. We should also explain that an earthquake is a natural disaster, but not as normal a natural event as rain or snowfall. Without drowning in too much geographical information and details, we should explain that the earthquake occurred as a result of the breaking of a very thick layer of rock under the ground and that we felt the shaking because we lived on this layer of rock.”
Another point that Aykol Ünal emphasizes is that children’s desire to understand whether they are safe or not lies behind their questions about the earthquake. Reminding that deferential expressions such as “Don’t be afraid, you shouldn’t worry” should not be used, Psychologist Deniz Aykol Ünal said, “Expressions like these do not calm their worries and may make the child feel that their feelings or concerns are not taken seriously. Instead, you should say “all this must have frightened you, you’re right, it’s really scary and frightening. I understand you. We, as your mother and father, stand by you and will be as prepared as we can to protect you in a time of danger.” We should re-establish the feeling of trust in the child by using expressions such as we are together now, you are not alone, we are safe.”