Jakarta. The ongoing eruptions of Mount Merapi have left thousands of evacuees in limbo, posing a very real threat to their mental health, an Indonesian expert has warned.
“After losing their families, property and homes, these people now have to live crammed together in evacuation camps with no way of knowing when the danger will strike again,” mental health expert Dr. Gregorius Pandu Setiawan said on Wednesday, following a visit to several evacuation camps in Central Java and Yogyakarta.
“The evacuees are bored, they have no meaningful activity, and this makes them highly prone to stress and depression,” he added.
He said children and the elderly were at greater risk of suffering a mental breakdown, and therefore needed special treatment and attention.
Supriyantoro, the Health Ministry’s director general for medical services, said his office had noted that many of the evacuees were beginning to exhibit symptoms of mild mental health problems, which he said was not surprising, given the current situation.
He said health officials had been deployed from Jakarta to check on the incidence of mental health problems in the camps.
Irmansyah, the ministry’s director for mental health education, said preliminary findings showed at least eight people were suffering from serious depression and anxiety, while one man had committed suicide, reportedly due to stress.
He said some of the more serious cases would need to be referred to the Yogyakarta Mental Health Institute.
Supriyantoro said some of the milder mental health problems were caused by the evacuees’ lack of activities while at the camps.
“They have too much free time and are easily distressed because of that,” he said.
He added that the Health Ministry was finding it difficult to address the issue because most of the evacuees were unaware they were even suffering from psychological problems, or else were reluctant to talk about them to mental health practitioners.
“They’ve also had to relocate several times because of the increasing danger of the eruptions, so it’s difficult for us to keep track of individual cases,” he said.
Counseling teams sent by the ministry, he added, were trying to prevent more serious problems developing by getting the evacuees to take up some sort of activity, including cleaning up the camps.
“Even though they are simple activities, they can help take the evacuees’ minds off the disaster, even if only for a while,” Supriyantoro said.
The latest official death toll from the eruptions is 151, according to an update posted on Wednesday on the Web site of the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB).
The agency reported that 382 people had suffered severe injuries in the eruptions and were being treated in the hospital, while more than 320,000 had been forced from their homes.