Chafik Mia, 36, suffered a serious leg injury when the roof of his kitchen collapsed following an explosion in the port of Beirut on 4 August. | ©Tom Nicholson / HI
The explosion in Beirut on 4 August traumatised an entire population. Over the last fortnight, HI’s teams have provided emergency psychological assistance to some 500 people.
Some 20 volunteers have been going door-to-door in the neighbourhoods of Beirut worst affected by the explosion, such as Quarantine and Basta, identifying people’s needs and providing them with psychological “first aid".
HI’s psychosocial support teams are working in the city’s worst affected neighbourhoods where they reach out to people hit by the explosion. They assess their needs, paying special attention to their mental health.
Each time they visit someone’s home, the HI team introduces itself, explains what the organisation does and the purpose of the interview, which is to record the damage caused by the explosion, and the individual situation of each person in the household, and to provide information on the social, medical, and humanitarian services available nearby.
HI encourages people to talk about their personal situation. The teams take time to listen to victims, allowing them to share their feelings and “get things off their chest". Psychological "first aid" thus involves listening to people, acknowledging their experiences, and adopting a kind and attentive attitude to their distress.
The psychologist or psychosocial worker adopts a neutral attitude, never interrupts someone, and establishes a relationship of trust.
They may make occasional comments such as "I understand" or “that’s true" .
They also normalize situations or reactions: if a person explains that he or she feels too anxious to leave home, the psychologist will reply that this is normal, and many people react the same way. This can help relieve stress.
A sympathetic ear can begin to relieve the stress and anxiety a person may be feeling.
In the most serious cases, HI provides information on immediately available mental health services.
The HI team always calls the person back two or three days after the interview to check on them and make sure they have been able to access the support they suggested.
Many people in Beirut are suffering from shock. One man who was fishing at the time of the explosion no longer feels able to go to sea, causing a significant loss of income to him and his family. He feels oppressed and cannot sleep.
The simple act of asking one woman what she needed brought tears to her eyes...
HI provides each individual suffering from extreme shock with assistance and a solution to their problems.