How To Cope With The Psychological Effects Of The Taal Volcano Eruption
Whether you’re directly or indirectly affected by the Taal eruption, here are some reminders to help you manage the possible psychological effects of the natural disaster
Last week, January 12, 2020, the peace of a fairly quiet Sunday was broken when the Taal volcano erupted. Due to the eruption, ash spewed violently to the nearby Metro Manila and Calabarzon region, mostly affecting the Tagaytay and Batangas areas. Since then, The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) has issued an Alert Level 4, which indicates a “hazardous explosive eruption” that is possible within days.
While Metro Manila and Central Luzon bounced back pretty quickly the day after Monday, ash continued to fall and spread to the southern part of Taal in the next days, with an estimated 96,000 people affected across Batangas and Cavite. Thousands of families were evacuated to 300 evacuation center and millions of pesos were pooled to aid in the relief of the affected families.
More than the physical uprooting of these families from their homes and work, probably one of the biggest effects of the Taal eruption is the psychological effect on the victims. And it’s not just the victims relocated by the eruption; the general population of Luzon living near the radius of the Taal went into a panic by the imminent threat of an explosive eruption of the volcano.
The aftermath of the eruption undeniably continues to have devastating effects on our mental health. Here are some reminders and advice to cope up with these psychological effects, whether you’re a part of the evacuated victims, know someone who was affected, or live in the nearby Metro Manila and Central Luzon areas that can be affected once the volcano erupts again.
Immediately after the eruption of Taal, social media was overridden with cautionary and informational materials about the threats and dangers the eruption carries. But sadly, not all of the materials that circulated online carried merit—some were fake news and propaganda made to scare people even further.
There were posts on Facebook claiming Mall of Asia’s foundations got destroyed by the seismic activity, which could lead to its collapse. Another warning also circulated to turn off cell phones because of strong radiation from cosmic rays, claiming it was from a BBC report. Another website aroused panic as it claimed a 7.8-magnitude earthquake will affect 15 cities in Luzon.
It’s easy to panic and believe scary news like these in times of panic, but remember to only trust reputable sources for anything news-related. For reputable sites to follow, follow traditional media organizations like ABS-CBN News—they are quick enough to disseminate critical information like advisories and alert level warnings. On Facebook, it’s also best to subscribe to reputable pages like Earth Shaker or DOST_Pagasa. On Twitter, click that follow button on the @phivolcs_dost page for the most accurate updates on earthquake and volcanic activity.
Provide or accept psychological help.
It’s easy to dismiss psychological stress and trauma, but it’s helpful to admit that the disaster will take a toll on the victims’ disposition.
“It’s a displacement, it’s a loss of almost everything they own, it’s a loss of livelihood. So it’s something really quite traumatic,” said Rebecca Galvez Tan, a program director at Filipino aid organization Health Futures Foundation, in an interview with Independent.
She advises that aid groups and NGOs who are in the affected areas for relief operations should be prepared to provide mental and emotional aid if needed. The victims may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and they may even experience panic or anxiety attacks as they become apprehensive of what will happen next.
If you’re on the ground as volunteers or if you’re in contact with people who were gravely affected by the disaster, it’s best to offer your support to help ease their pain and worries. Listening to them is a good way of lending emotional support, and encouraging them to adopt a more hopeful perspective.
Different people cope differently so there may be victims who don’t respond immediately to interactions, but staying and listening is more than enough sometimes. Irish company Health Service Executive says that active listening is “understanding what someone is saying, without judgement or expectation.” This means that when listening actively, you make sure that you show you care, have patience when they feel like they’re not ready to open up just yet, use open-ended questions to make the person to reflect and expand, and to remember what they say throughout.
Volunteer your time to help in the relief operations.
Not knowing what’s happening is scary, so if you have the time and ability to go out and join the relief operations, you’ll at least be able to experience what’s going on in the areas hit by the disaster.
In fact, Harvard Health says volunteering is good for the mind and body. This conclusion came from a recent study from Carnegie Mellon University that adults over age 50 who volunteered on a regular basis were less likely to suffer from high blood pressure compared to non-volunteers. Harvard also quoted another study published in the Health Psychology journal that found those who volunteered regularly lived longer. But there’s a catch: it’s “only if their intentions were truly altruistic…[and] not to make themselves feel better.”
Volunteering and lending a hand during these times should always be from the heart, and from that genuine desire to help others. But if you’re still on the fence, still go and give volunteering a shot. You might find yourself actually caring when you immerse yourself more in situations where you see that the time and effort you contribute actually makes a difference in other people’s lives.
If you’re looking for organizations and groups that are looking for relief donations and volunteers, check out our previous article for a more extensive list.
Join fun and learning activities.
It’s also good to know that there are groups now who are dedicated to helping the victims—especially children—cope from the effects of the Taal eruption. Since classes and work have been suspended, these groups are taking it into their own hands to keep the children engaged and happy despite the current status of the volcano.
A group of youth volunteers organized the “Aklatahanan Project” in Batangas, where the volunteers act as storytellers and engage children aged 11 and below to get into reading, drawing, writing, and coloring exercises. Although the project started in October last year to get children into reading, it has evolved into a kind of relief operations during the Taal disaster.
Arnold Allanigui, a magician and puppeteer that goes by the name of Amazing Arnold, has also offered his talents to bring joy to the children in evacuation sites in Cavite and Batangas.
Psychological First Aid
The Taal eruption has also become an avenue for people to be more acquainted about Psychological First Aid (PFA), and how it can help people who get into psychological attacks and slumps at any time, not just during disasters. Last week, the the De La Salle University-Dasmariñas (DLSU-D) Center for Applied Psychology gathered more than 200 volunteers to be trained on PFA. Evangeline Ruga, chair of the DLSU-D Psychology Department, says that “PFA intends to make survivors feel that they are not alone in times of distress, to connect them to sources of support and to help them feel safe and confident in themselves and in their environment again... It also intends to help them muster enough strength to go on further healing, recovery, and adaptation.”
According to the Psychological First Aid: Guide for Field Workers primer by the World Health Organization, the three basic action principles of PFA are look, listen, and link.
The first course of action is to look—which means check for safety and people who need urgent care. Some of the most common symptoms of psychological distress are shaking, depressed mood, insomnia, anger, confusion, disorientation, or non-responsiveness. Also, be on the lookout for people who are most likely to need special attention such as children, the physically and psychologically disabled, and pregnant women.
Second is to listen—which is listening properly and offering your help. Approach people who need support, ask about what the need (eg. blanket, water, or clothing), and stay by their side to help them calm down. When someone is distressed, the best thing to do is sometimes is to just let them feel that they are not alone. Some calming techniques include keeping your voice soft and calm, reminding them that you are there to help them, and employing some physical exercises like asking them to tap their fingers on their lap or encouraging them to focus on their breathing.
The third is link—which is helping people regain control of the situation. Start by connecting them to where they can get basic needs like water and food, helping identify their support system like their friends or family, and share whatever information you have on the state of the crisis to make them grounded about what’s happening.
For a more extensive discussion on PFA, read the full handout here.