The Tsunami, Pakistan and Coping with Trauma
Monday, February 27, 2006 Posted: 12:42 PM JST
Over the past eleven years I have seen my fair share of disasters and accidents. I have interviewed countless people who told me the most horrific stories. I have seen quite a few horrible scenes myself. Especially when I covered the aftermath of the tsunami.
The images of dead people lying in puddles of dirty water, and feet of children sticking out of the mud are engraved on my mind. I found covering the earthquake in Pakistan difficult because of the fate of the children. Tens of thousands died at schools, just as many had limbs amputated in dirty make-shift field hospitals.
Sometimes the horror is in my own backyard. In 1995 my neighborhood was destroyed and I helped digging out a neighbor after a huge earthquake flattened Kobe. Last year, a horrific train accident killed over a hundred people. Just a short drive from my home. While I was photographing dead people I realized I had been shopping just a few streets away the day before
I used to think that it wasn't affecting me too much. I was able to do my job, and seemed to forget what I had seen as soon as I was working on another story. I also noticed no obvious signs of stress or trauma.
Now I am starting to wonder though if I am really unaffected by all that I have seen and heard. When I covered the first anniversary of the tsunami in Indonesia last December I noticed that my productivity and my ability to focus was reduced. Sure signs of stress. When I walked through the same areas where I had seen, and smelled, hundreds of dead bodies a year earlier, I felt incredibly heavy in my chest. As if a great weight had been lowered onto it. I also became very emotional when I visited mass graves and felt compelled to pray for the victims and meditate.
Clearly I was not as unaffected as I had thought. The images and feelings were very much present in hidden corners of my mind.
This morning my friend Jean Downey made me aware of the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma. The Dart Center is a global network of journalists, journalism educators and health professionals dedicated to improving media coverage of trauma, conflict and tragedy. The Center also addresses the consequences of such coverage for those working in journalism.
Although I have read a lot about coping with trauma, and have worked through my experience of the 1995 earthquake that hit Kobe and surroundings, including my home, I find the site extremely helpful.
Not only does it address the effects that covering traumatic events have on journalists, it also discusses our responsibilities and duties in covering these events, and it offers excellent advice on preventing problems.
One of the many articles that caught my eye, was about covering bird flu. I covered the flu and visited a contaminated chicken farm when the flu first hit Japan. At the time I was very aware of my ignorance about prevention. This article is full of excellent advice. Not only for journalists, but also the general public. As it now seems increasingly sure that bird flu will run havoc in our society, this is a must read.
Other articles gave excellent advice about dealing with trauma and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) after covering a tragedy. We have had quite a few of these the past few years, and it looks like they will only increase. If you cover such events, like I do, I can highly recommend the site of the Dart Center. Go and visit.
- Links to sites with information about bird flu
- Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma
- My photographs of the Asian Tsunami Aftermath
- My photographs of the Japanese Train Crash
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