Fri, May 07, 2004 - Page 2 News List

Study tracks 921 quake trauma

SURVIVORS Yesterday, researchers released preliminary results of a study about the 921 earthquake's effects on the residents of a hard-hit town in Nantou County

By Chiu Yu-Tzu  /  STAFF REPORTER

About 20 percent of the residents of Puli township, Nantou County -- one of the areas near the epicenter of a devastating earthquake that claimed 2,400 lives in 1999 -- suffer from problems such as insomnia and poor sleep quality, scientists affiliated with the National Science Council (NSC) said yesterday.

A five-year government-sponsored psychological research project on trauma survivors in central Taiwan -- the part of the country most seriously affected by the temblor, which hit 7.3 on the Richter scale -- has yielded preliminary results that scientists are using to analyze the disaster's effects on survivors.

About 53.7 percent of the buildings in the township collapsed partially or fully.

According to Hsu Wen-yau (許文耀), a psychology professor at National Chengchi University, 18.5 percent of the survivors have problems sleeping and 17.2 percent suffer from insomnia.

Hsu said that about 15.9 percent of the survivors feel that such a disaster could happen again in the near future.

Hsu's study involved interviews with 354 residents of Puli.

When the research project was launched in August, 2001, about 41 percent of interviewees were jobless. About 10 percent of interviewees suffered from mental problems, such as becoming angry or frightened easily. Some felt a sense of helplessness and could not stop thinking about the earthquake.

"The most important factor in how well survivors cope with a disaster like this seems to be their mental makeup, more than factors like their family's financial situation," Hsu said yesterday.

Hsu said that survivors would suffer from fewer mental problems if they were able to regain positive feelings not only about life, but also about themselves.

After the 921 earthquake, psychological researchers contacted victims immediately in a bid to help them cope with trauma resulting from the quake.

In the past four years, Liang Pei-yung (梁培勇), an associate professor at National Taipei Teachers College, kept track of 29 children ranging in age from several months to 17 years old.

Liang said that among children placed with foster families, the mental condition of those who identified with their foster families was significantly better than that of those who felt excluded from their foster families.

Wu Yin-chang (吳英璋), a psychology professor at National Taiwan University, said that community-based non-governmental groups (NGOs) can also be quite helpful.

Wu said that the meaningfulness of one's past experience was important in helping trauma victims release themselves from their mental prisons.

"Some victims generalize and find the meaning of life in their experiences. But some need more external assistance, such as religion, in order to find meaning in life," Wu said.

NSC officials said that the research project would end in July, 2006. However, similar studies about earthquake-related issues will receive strong support from the government.

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