Red Cross psychosocial support helps lift shadow of China knife attack

Publié: 13 mars 2014 14:37 CET

By Kevin Xia, IFRC

“I was seeing off friends at the railway station when suddenly I saw a group carrying long knives starting to slash nearby people indiscriminately. I was so terrified and fled desperately. I was lucky to get away, but later the horrible scenes frantically flashed back in my mind when I closed my eyes and I could not sleep at all,” said one survivor who called the psychological hotline set up by the Red Cross Society of China after a knife attack that left at least 29 people dead and more than 140 wounded.

Immediately after the attack in the southwestern city of Kunming, the Red Cross Society of China Yunnan provincial branch deployed more than 50 volunteers to provide first aid to the injured and to help mobilize blood donations.

Red Cross Team supports survivors

Meanwhile, a psychosocial team of 30 people was being coordinated to provide emotional support for those affected by the violence, including relatives of victims, injured people and those still in shock. A psychosocial hotline is also being set up.

Mo Jie, a member of the Psychosocial Emergency Response Team, decided to use relaxation techniques to help a traumatised caller. Through the phone, she suggested he lie down in a comfortable place and started a conversation with him to help him relax. The process lasted ten minutes until he gradually felt more peaceful.

“We received 136 similar calls on the first day when the psychological hotline was set up on March 4th. The ringing didn’t stop from 9am to 11pm,” said Huang Jing, an official from the Yunnan Branch.

Team note own reactions

The psychosocial team members also noted down their own negative psychological symptoms while providing emotional support to those affected.

“In a situation like this, it is important to remember that the helpers are also affected and we must pay attention to their needs as well. The system of monitoring their reactions is very useful, and will help to follow those that need further support,” said Nana Wiedemann, who heads the IFRC Reference Centre for Psychosocial Support in Copenhagen.

Some experts in the team said the horrific scenes of violence caused different types of trauma in different individuals. Some would keep recalling the events with grief, anxiety, and depression; some chose to wipe out the memory and refused to remember anything; some would feel dull and unresponsive and others, on the on the contrary, were hyped up and over-reactive to their surroundings. This required the team members to use different and flexible approaches to help them.

“One woman had come to Yunnan on holiday and was on her way to the ancient town of Dali. When she was stabbed, the physical wound was not severe, but she was so deeply shocked that she couldn’t even step out of the door,” said Li Chao, a Red Cross volunteer who is also a state-authorized psychological counsellor. Li decided to go to the hospital to carry out a face-to-face psychological crisis intervention. “After she felt better, we agreed to continue the intervention by phone,” he said.

The team was the only one authorised by the government to provide emotional support to those affected by the violence. Most team members posses professional qualifications in psychology and have participated in several Red Cross operations such as the those following the Yunnan Earthquake in 2012 and Sichuan Earthquake in 2013.