Help­ing stu­dents who have ex­pe­ri­enced a cri­sis or dis­as­ter

The Manica Post - - Health - Dr Mazvita Machinga

DIS­AS­TERS and cri­sis hap­pen ev­ery day in our lives and in our com­mu­ni­ties. When these hap­pen, there are up­set­ting to ev­ery­one in­volved re­gard­less of age and colour.

Dis­as­ters come in dif­fer­ent forms, shapes and sizes. In Zim­babwe, there are nat­u­ral dis­as­ters such as fires, floods and light­ning which can trau­ma­tise the peo­ple af­fected.

Stu­dents are not spared. They en­counter trauma ei­ther through per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence or in­di­rect knowl­edge of dis­as­ters that have oc­curred in their lives and com­mu­ni­ties. Some stu­dents ex­pe­ri­ence vi­o­lence and death re­lated to rape, ve­hi­cle ac­ci­dents, drown­ing, fire burns,sui­cide of friends and rel­a­tives, com­mu­nity vi­o­lence and even kid­nap­ping. Other sit­u­a­tions that can be trau­matic to stu­dents in­clude the death of a fam­ily mem­ber, class­mate, or teacher, and vi­o­lent events at school and in com­mu­nity.

Just like adults, stu­dents re­act dif­fer­ently with emo­tional re­sponses such as fear, grief, acute stress and post-trau­matic stress syn­drome. I have seen that trau­matic ex­pe­ri­ences and other events can threaten stu­dents’ sense of worth and well-be­ing. This can lead to low self-es­teem and in­tense per­sonal tur­moil that may lead stu­dents to think about hurt­ing them­selves or oth­ers. Stu­dents; learn­ing process may be af­fected neg­a­tively. Teach­ers and other school of­fi­cials play a crit­i­cal role in iden­ti­fy­ing and pro­vid­ing sup­port for those most dis­tressed.

There are some hints that can be adopted by schools and teach­ers to pro­tect stu­dent sur­vivors from fur­ther phys­i­cal or psy­cho­log­i­cal harm in times of cri­sis or emer­gency. Most sig­nif­i­cantly, re­mem­ber that school chil­dren of dif­fer­ent ages re­act in dif­fer­ent ways to trauma.

Three most im­por­tant things teach­ers, par­ents and care­givers can do are: lis­ten­ing and pay­ing at­ten­tion, pro­tect­ing and con­nect­ing.

1. Help your stu­dent know that they are not alone in their re­ac­tions.

2. Watch out for com­mon re­ac­tions of neg­a­tive im­pact of trauma such as trou­ble sleep­ing, prob­lems at school and with friends, trou­ble con­cen­trat­ing and lis­ten­ing, and not fin­ish­ing work as­sign­ments.

3. Help stu­dents find ap­pro­pri­ate and con­struc­tive out­lets for emo­tions.

4. Give your stu­dents op­por­tu­ni­ties to talk, draw, and play, but don’t force it. (Pro­fes­sional men­tal health work­ers can help with this).

5. It is im­por­tant to talk to your stu­dents about what is be­ing done by the fam­ily, school and com­mu­nity to keep ev­ery­one safe from harm.

6. Be sen­si­tive to any­thing in the en­vi­ron­ment that can re-trau­ma­tise stu­dents.

7. Main­tain your daily rou­tines, ac­tiv­i­ties and struc­ture with clear ex­pec­ta­tions and limit un­nec­es­sary changes

8. Be sen­si­tive to stu­dents’ cur­rent level of func­tion­ing and help them seek help as soon as pos­si­ble.

9. Check in” with stu­dents on a reg­u­lar ba­sis.

10. En­cour­age your stu­dents to iden­tify and use pos­i­tive cop­ing strate­gies to help them af­ter the event

11. Re­mind stu­dents that with time and as­sis­tance, things will gen­er­ally get bet­ter. EX­PECT RE­COV­ERY. Please re­mem­ber in any case of cri­sis, early and fo­cused in­ter­ven­tion can re­duce suf­fer­ing emo­tional dis­tress and pre­vent fu­ture psy­cho­log­i­cal prob­lems. Seek help early.

◆ Dr Mazvita Machinga is a qual­i­fied psy­chother­a­pist and men­tal health con­sul­tant who can be con­tacted at 0778 83 84 10 / 0771 754 519; email mmazvi@ ya­hoo.com

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