Stephen Court effect: the traumatised may need counselling

By Debayan Mukherjee, IANS,

Kolkata : The Stephen Court inferno, the sight of people jumping to their death to escape the blaze, the burnt corpses – all this has left scars on the minds of the victims’ families and the countless others who watched the horrific scenes on television. Many of them, especially the children, could need psychiatric help or counselling, experts say.

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Consultant psychologist Indrani Dutta has seen her niece suffer from sleeplessness after watching for days the visuals of the raging fire in the century-old building on Kolkata’s Park Street. Thirty-three people died in the blaze.

“Repetition of such morbid scenes on television is unnecessary. Children are affected the most,” a worried Dutta told IANS.

Both the survivors and relatives of the victims of last Tuesday’s killer blaze are going through “unimaginable stress” and may become victims of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In that state, flashes of the incident will keep haunting them resulting in lack of sleep, fury, sorrow and an overall feeling of anxiety, says psychiatrist Arnab Banerjee.

“The mental pressure on them is enormous. Normally we are not accustomed to such incidents. So the sudden shock can be harmful. Loss of life, loss of property will add to the mental pressure,” Banerjee says.

Another psychiatrist, Debashis Roy, says the short term and long term mental effects could vary from person to person, as also the treatment. “The treatment will not be the same for every individual. Cases are different. We have to address the losses differently,” says Roy.

Banerjee opines that the traumatised need to go for PSTD-management. “Relief is needed. The traumatised people need to be relaxed before any treatment or medication.

“The enormous stress and shock can cause depression. Anti-depression, anti-anxiety medicines are there. But before that we need to sit with the person concerned, talk to him, and in the process access his mental condition maintaining a sympathetic attitude. After initial medication and assessment, we can decide on whether to counsel or use therapy on the patient. But hyper tension should be relieved first,” explains Banerjee.

Roy feels both survivors and those who have lost their kin will take time to recover.

“Let the person grieve, I would suggest. At the same time if we allow the sense of loss to prevail for long, it would only result in lingering the psychological effects of the mishap,” adds Roy.

Dutta says a lot depends on the mental make up of individuals. “If the person is mentally strong he or she won’t need professional help. But if the case is otherwise, counselling will be required,” she advises.

For the millions watching the tragedy on television, the impact on the mind is no less, feels Banerjee while Roy said it is relative. “A sensitive mind cannot accept such traumatic sights so easily. A stress management exercise can be recommended,” he says.

Consultant psychologist Shikha Dey says that if parents find the troubling sights constantly playing on the minds of their wards, they should ensure the little ones are not left alone. “Immediate treatment and counselling will be required if their condition turns serious, to prevent any long-term effects.”