Psychological suffering for one in four ‘tsunami Swedes’

A new study has shown that conversation has been the most effective way of helping those injured or who suffered loss in the tsunami in South East Asia in 2004 to cope with their traumas.

The purpose of the study, carried out by the National Centre for Disaster Psychiatry at Uppsala University, was to determine the incidence, level and what kind of trauma the Swedes suffered.

It also investigated the degree of help received, their current state of health and whether they had been affected by any psychological problems one year later.

A questionnaire was sent out to 10,000 Swedes who had returned from South East Asia, but only 4,910 people took part in the study. Many of those who participated were in a location affected by the tsunami and half of these assessed their situation as life threatening.

Fourteen months later, a quarter of the participants stated that their mental well-being has deteriorated and ten percent reported post-traumatic stress reactions, measured according to an internationally valid scale.

The number of those affected on sick leave was “surprisingly low” but women and individuals present at an affected area, who were injured or who lost someone or who suffered life-threatening injuries showed a higher level of post-traumatic stress symptoms.

As for aid on the ground in Thailand, Swedes felt that the help they received from locals, family members, others affected by the tragedy, local help organisations and local medical authorities was more beneficial than the assistance provided by the Swedish authorities.

Respondents said they were dissatisfied with the way the situation was handled by the Swedish authorities, including consulates, embassies and Swedish rescue teams.

Family members and close friends have been the most valuable help resourced for many after their return to Sweden. Those who sought help went mainly to crisis groups, doctors, welfare officers and psychologists. Only a smaller number sought help with psychiatrists.

Some have stated that their perspective on life has changed and they have become more negative while others say they have become stronger from the experience.