The trauma of the 6 February twin quakes that hit 10 provinces in Turkey’s south will lead to a mental health crisis unless urgent psychological support is provided, experts told Reuters on Monday.
The disaster affected an area with a total population of 13.5 million, many of whom are survivors that in the past three weeks have lost everything, including family members, jobs, and life savings.
The trauma of the disaster will have a deep psychological impact on survivors, according to experts, while children are at particular risk of developing anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
5.4 million children in Turkey and Syria carry psychological scars left by the tremor, according to UN figures.
“They need to be able to resume their education, and they urgently need psychosocial support to help deal with the trauma they have experienced,” UNICEF Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia Afshan Khan told the news agency.
While Turkey’s Ministry of Family and Social Services has dispatched more than 3,700 social workers to support the survivors, the government has come under criticism for deploying imams and Diyanet (Religious Affairs Directorate) personnel to the region for spiritual counselling, in line with the country’s Islamist agenda.
The Diyanet personnel, who promote Sunni Islam, are being used for counselling despite concerns raised by mental health professionals and commentators about the multi-religious structure of the region.
Critics say that deploying imams to the disaster zone is linked with one of the directorate’s 2015 projects, and is inappropriate for addressing the mental health crisis faced by earthquake victims.
Mental health experts recommend deploying mental health care professionals to the quake-hit zone to provide the long-term support needed to recover from trauma.
Meanwhile, several Islamist groups have also been organising support to earthquake survivors. Many in Turkey are wary of such groups opening Quran teaching schools in tent and container cities.
Yet, mental well-being is not the only health concern for people affected by the disaster. Several organisations over the last three weeks have repeatedly warned of an epidemic risk, as many survivors lack access to clean water and personal hygiene facilities, unrecovered bodies begin to decay and rubbish piles up in the streets.
According to Şebnem Korur-Fincancı, the head of Turkish Medical Association (TMA), there has been an increase in cases of pneumonia and scabies in the earthquake zone.
Disease outbreaks are likely to reach epidemic proportions in coming weeks, Fincancı warned.