After Nepal devastation, aftershocks of fear keep many Delhiites on edge

Psychiatrists say extensive media coverage also plays its part in heightening trauma

Like many tragedies, this too started with a funny first act. The first major earthquake in the country after the emergence of social media led to a tsunami of tongue-in-cheek punch lines and some very lame jokes on Twitter and Facebook.

A much shared one accused Southern superstar Rajnikanth of being the cause by falling in his shower. 

An e-commerce company took the bad humour to an unparalleled level, when they asked the shoppers to “shake it off like the earthquake”. Within half an hour, #earthquake was trending on Twitter.

And then the reports from Nepal started to pour in. They were not just minor, inconsequential tremors. 

They were part of an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.9 with its epicentre in Nepal’s Gorkha district, which also affected many parts of northern India.  After the one-liners were done with, the fear started to sink in. 

“The scary thing this time was the several aftershocks. You were never quite sure whether it was a minor shock or full-fledged quake. There was another earthquake today. You never know what might be coming. Something dreadful seems to be happening,” says Apurv, a manager living in south Delhi’s Katwaria Sarai, a student hub where many buildings clearly seem to be built with just commerce in mind, with narrow stairs and hanging electrical wires. 

It is just one of the many unplanned colonies in the capital, which can fall like a pack of cards when earth shakes. 

“Aisi jagah rehkar darr dugna ho jata hai (Living at a place like this doubles your fears)”, he adds.

Suresh, a student at Jawaharlal Nehru University, says though he feels safe in the campus which has plenty of open spaces, he fears for his family back home in his village in Bihar.

“My ancestral home is in pretty bad condition and we are not in a financial condition to rebuilt or renovate it just now. Some walls are already cracked. The roof leaks from some places. I don’t even want to imagine what will happen if an earthquake comes”, he says.

“However, that house has withstood the test of time compared to many recent constructions. But the question is for how much longer”, he asks.

The aftershocks, a constant reminder of the destruction, did not help those susceptible to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). 

Vulnerable“The most vulnerable are the children, who can’t understand such an event. Apart from them, old people who have no one to take care of can also develop hyper stress. Someone who had experienced a similar encounter in the past can also relive the bitter memories,” says Dr Aarti Anand, a psychiatrist.

“The patients of depression, anxiety and panic attacks too come under the high-risk group,”  she adds.

Experts say people suffering from PTSD can experience heightened feeling of shock, disbelief, fear, sadness, helplessness, guilt, anger and shame.

“In serious cases, the patients can experience extreme anxiety, sleeplessness, nightmares and show signs of aloofness from the society,” says Dr Anand.

Dr Nimesh G Desai, Psychiatrist and Director, Institute of Human Behaviour & Allied Sciences (IHBAS) says extensive media coverage also plays its part in heightening these fears, even in cases people had not experienced the disaster first-hand. 

“In today’s times, audio-visual mediums and associated technologies have evolved very much. The world has shrunk.  We feel the pain and fear of the place, even if we are far removed,” he says. 

“If you think you are suffering from something serious, you should express your fears to people close to you. Seek the help of friends or family members. Don’t take any medicine without prescription. You can also seek the help of a medical practitioner”, he adds.

Aamir, a resident of Jamia Nagar, says he has started to experience earthquake when it’s not really happening.

“The worst thing about a earthquake is that it comes just like that, without any warning and it can strike anywhere, unlike floods, cyclones or hurricanes. I have shifted my bed from under my fan, as I fear it will fall on me and kill me when tremors come. I have removed all objects which can fall from my room. But what can one do if the whole building collapses”, he says.

Dr Desai says this stress does not always have negative consequences.“Though stress is not a good thing, it can sometimes lead a person to be better prepared, if a disaster occurs. The stress will most likely subside after few weeks,

 but if it forces a person to adopt some safe practices, it serves a useful purpose.”In the week after the earthquake, some fake “warning” messages were circulated on WhatsApp. 

“I got a message that a quake will come at 8.06 pm. I and my friends came out of our building at the supposed time. Eventually, everyone gets bored of fear and life goes on as usual”, says Suresh, sipping his tea in the JNU canteen.

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