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Monday, August 23, 1999 Published at 14:44 GMT 15:44 UK


World: Europe

Healing the mental scars in Turkey

Finding bodies helps the grieving process

While Turkey struggles to cope with the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, experts are warning about the long-term psychological impact on a traumatised people.

The emphasis of the rescue operation has shifted from finding survivors in the rubble to helping the men, women and children left to get on with their lives.

"In these situations psychological help comes way down the list of priorities," says Lorraine Sherr, a consultant clinical psychologist at the Royal Free Hospital in London.


[ image: Lists are posted of where bodies are found]
Lists are posted of where bodies are found
"But that can store up trouble for the future, particularly if families do not know where their relatives are buried and if bodies are not found."

Many bodies are being buried in mass graves as the bulldozers move in.

Relatives may never know where their loved ones are buried and this uncertainty makes it even more difficult to begin the process of grieving.

Lorraine Sherr says it has been recognised for some time that grief needs a focus:

"Mourning is not about forgetting. It is about remembering. Remembering the life and qualities of people you love.

Legacy for the living

"In order for that to happen, there has to be somewhere to start.

"The most difficult things to cope with after a tragedy are the feelings generated because you have survived while others have not.

"Also there has to be a realisation that life will never be the same again.

"Those emotions are easier to come to terms with if the process of grief has been properly embarked upon."


[ image: Trauma will last generations]
Trauma will last generations
Ms Sherr says that even if it is not possible to tell relatives exactly where their loved ones are buried, it can help for them to know that all the people from a particular village are buried in one spot.

That at least gives them somewhere to focus their grief.

The Centre for Crisis Psychology in North Yorkshire has worked with many accident survivors and people who have lost family members.

Dr Peter Hodgkinson from the centre says that natural disasters like the Turkish earthquake can be the hardest of all to come to terms with:

"With an accident, like a train crash or a fire, there is at least some comfort for bereaved relatives in the thought that things can be done to make sure they do not happen again.

Support missing

"Death in war can be given some meaning if there is a feeling that the victim was fighting for a cause.

"But with a natural disaster on this scale, there is a sense of hopelessness, of being totally overwhelmed by the force of nature."

With so many people in the same areas killed in Turkey, the support mechanism of friends and family has also been devastated

. Experts in trauma and grief counselling believe there is a case for sending in psychologists to help train Turkish medical staff deal with the legacy of the earthquake.

That process of re- building is every bit as difficult as the physical re-construction facing the Turkish nation.



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Centre for Crisis Psychology

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