Dar es Salaam. Health authorities in Arusha Region plan to provide psycho-social support to children and parents, who are trying to come to terms with the deaths of 32 pupils in a road accident in Karatu District on Saturday.
As thousands of people paid their last respects to the pupils, two teachers and a driver killed in the crash, many of the parents and children who attended the sombre ceremony at Sheikh Amri Abeid Stadium in Arusha on Monday were distraught and inconsolable.
Psychologists warn that without intervention, deep sadness and anger caused by the loss of loved ones can progress from being mere emotional reactions, such as normal to complicated grieving, to depression and eventually post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The Arusha Regional Medical Officer, Dr Wonanji Timothy, told The Citizen yesterday that a team of health officials from the government would soon embark on a comprehensive programme to support the grieving families and offer counselling to pupils studying at Lucky Vincent Primary School.
“This tragic event is likely to have a profound impact on families and children who have lost their close friends. This requires us to intervene as soon as possible,’’ he said without stating when the project would commence or how long it would take.
Dr Timothy said the programme would be coordinated through the office of the Regional Administrative Secretary to ensure that all health stakeholders wishing to help grieving families and schoolchildren were given an opportunity to do so.
A psychiatrist at Muhimbili National Hospital (MNH), Dr Linda August, says grieving can become complicated and turn into an acute form of psychosis, especially among accident survivors.
“What can be done in this situation is to subject such victims to what we call eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR). This helps them to process the upsetting memories, thoughts and feelings related to the trauma.
By processing these experiences, you can get relief from PTSD symptoms.
“If, say, a parent loses two or more children, the problem may become more complicated. A parent may spend months visiting the grave of his or her loved one, trying to come to terms with the loss. This requires swift intervention so that it doesn’t end up as PTSD,’’ says Dr August.
She adds that everyone grieves in their own way and in their own time, and that some people recover from grief more readily than others.
According to other psychologists, other people may feel better after about a year, while others may continue to grieve for many years.
However, they say grief can be complicated by other conditions, most notably depression, or by the person’s level of dependency on the departed.