A group of Taiwanese psychiatrists and social workers with extensive experience in taking care of earthquake victims are preparing to go to China’s Sichuan Province to pass on their experience and provide counseling training to local volunteers.
Psychiatrist Wang Hao-wei (王浩威) is scheduled to leave for Sichuan on Friday. Wang said that major differences exist between the 921 Earthquake, which struck Taiwan on Sept. 21, 1999, and the one in Sichuan.
“The degree of traumatization is greater in Sichuan,” he said. “Because of China’s one-child policy, many parents lost their one and only child.”
“Media coverage of the Sichuan earthquake is also difficult to manage as it has come in such a great, uncontrollable volume,” he said.
When asked how their experience could contribute to the spiritual reconstruction given such great differences, Wang said sharing of knowledge is nevertheless helpful.
“The most important thing is long-term reconstruction, which will take at least one or two years,” he said.
He said that the situation is really chaotic now, and he would not know what he could offer until he met with psychiatrists in China.
In a press conference yesterday, other specialists mentioned some of the significant findings gained from caring for victims of the 921 Earthquake to highlight the importance of psychiatric treatment.
W.J. Chen (陳為堅), associate dean of the public health college at National Taiwan University, said a study showed that one-fourth of earthquake victims in Puli (埔里), Nantou County, were diagnosed with mental health problems three to four months after the earthquake.
When evaluated by strict clinical standards, 32 percent of the victims had post-traumatic syndrome, he said.
Chen said another study showed that 20.9 percent of the earthquake victims were still diagnosed as having post-traumatic syndrome two years after the earthquake.
Wang Mei-en (王美恩), chief knowledge officer of Child Welfare League Foundation, said her organization was in charge of taking care of 134 children who became orphans after the 921 Earthquake. It pledged to care for these children until they turn 18.
The foundation helped some of the orphans find families to adopt. To do so, it also managed to set an amendment to the Civil Law (民法), Article 1094, to be passed by the legislature in order to change the priority of adoption in the family.
The foundation also tracked the lives of the orphans it helped over the past nine years.
Wang highlighted the effectiveness of maintaining contact with these traumatized children.
A 16-year-old girl who lost her parents in 921 Earthquake, for example, asked how she could help the victims in Sichuan when she saw the news on TV.
Chang Chueh (張玨), a director at the Mental Health Association in Taiwan, said that the suicide rate in Nantou County had jumped immediately after the 921 Earthquake.
“However, the suicide rate was not elevated when measured again a year later,” she said.
Funding for the psychiatrists’ trip will be provided by an organization they represent.