Familial, social and psychological factors play an important role in reducing stress and depression in Sri Lankan mothers affected by the 2004 Asian tsunami, a study has found.
The authors hope that the findings, reported in Social Science and Medicine, could improve existing recovery and reconstruction programmes and contribute to designing new ones.
The Asian tsunami struck parts of South-East and South Asia on 26 December, 2004, leaving nearly 31,000 dead, 100,000 homeless and millions exposed to stress in Sri Lanka.
The researchers studied the direct influences of the tsunami, such as homelessness and loss of livelihood, on the mental health of mothers from 325 affected families in southern Sri Lanka, three to four months after the event. They also looked at indirect impacts such as post-tsunami family problems.
Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) — severe, ongoing emotional stress and anxiety caused by exposure to a traumatic event involving physical injury or risk of death to oneself or relatives — were found in 19.9 per cent of the mothers, and depression in 37.8 per cent.
"[The] data show that psychiatric symptoms affected day-to-day activities (economic, family and social activities) of the parents," Kandauda Wickrama associate professor of human development and family studies at the US-based Iowa State University and co-author of the paper, told SciDev.Net.
"Some of these symptoms were reduced through counselling and therapy."
In developing countries, the authors say, mothers carry the largest burden in terms of family care, and are therefore more vulnerable to symptoms of stress and depression arising from long-lasting homelessness and displacement.
But factors such as intact family status, community support and resilience developed through difficult life experiences help women to cope with a disaster and diminish the risk of developing long-term mental health problems.
Several practical implications for improving and formulating recovery and reconstruction programmes have arisen from the study, say the researchers.
For example, governments and nongovernmental organisations should strive to carry out rapid reconstruction and recovery programmes following disasters. Similarly, interventions and psychiatric treatment programmes should focus on families and be integrated with other social and economic recovery efforts.
Wickrama told SciDev.Net that the researchers plan to carry out follow-up studies from June 2008 to analyse total numbers of mothers in Sri Lanka who developed long-term depression and stress symptoms.
Social Science and Medicine 66, 994 (2008)