Hürriyet Daily News
Psychiatric problems suffered in the aftermath of the major earthquakes that hit Turkey in 1999 are extremely widespread and can last for years, epidemiological studies conducted in the affected regions have found.
The researchers concluded that psychological support mechanisms should be made available in regions affected by natural disasters for many years after the fact, Dr. A. Tamer Aker, the head of the psychiatry department at Kocaeli University, wrote in a scientific article published in Turkish Psychiatry magazine in 2006.
Two major earthquakes hit Turkey in 1999, one in the western province of Kocaeli and nearby cities on Aug. 17 and one on Nov. 12 in Düzce.
Many studies were made in the area at different times to try and measure the effects of the quakes on their survivors. Eight months after the quake in Gölcük town, the epicenter of the Kocaeli quake, 43 percent of the 1,000 people living in tents and prefabricated houses exhibited symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, while 22 percent were found to be suffering from major depression.
Fourteen months after the disaster, 63 percent of the people who applied for psychiatric consultancy in Gölcük and Değirmendere, one of the other towns hard hit by the disaster, suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and 42 percent from major depression.
Twenty months after the disaster, when 586 people were still living in Gölcük’s prefabricated houses, 39 percent of them suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and 18 percent from major depression.
In his article, Dr. Aker said that the 1999 earthquakes not only affected the society’s mental health but also affected the research area of those working in the field. “Almost 25 percent of articles on psychic trauma written from Turkey between 1970 and 2003 are about earthquakes,” he wrote.
Before the Marmara quakes, there were two important studies conducted after the 1992 Erzincan earthquake and the 1998 earthquake in Adana. In 1995, 461 people in Erzincan participated in the research; researchers at the time also met with 129 respondents in Ankara. Those living in Erzincan exhibited higher amounts of phobic anxiety complaints than those living in Ankara. After the Marmara quakes, the extensiveness of post-traumatic stress disorder in Adana was higher than before.
A union for disasters
Aker told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review that there have been important developments since then in psychiatric services addressing the affects of disasters in Turkey, noting that organizations like Turkish Red Crescent Society, the Turkish Psychiatry Association, the Turkish Psychologist Association, the Social Services Experts Association, the Turkish Psychological Counseling Association and the Child and Youth Mental Health Association have founded the Union of Psychosocial Services for Disasters.
This union has provided services after various natural disasters and also incidents such as the massacre earlier this year in a village in Mardin and the bombing of Anafartalar Bazaar in Ankara.
A process also needs to be prepared to deal with a possible earthquake in Istanbul, Aker said. “Every individual from every age and social group should know what to do and how. We need to raise the awareness level about quakes and the level of information and ability,” he said, adding that resources for providing psychological support after an Istanbul quake should be distributed in a balanced way.
“After Aug. 17, mental-health experts from Istanbul provided significant services in the quake area,” Aker said. “In the case of an earthquake in Istanbul, this should be reversed. Other cities, primarily the nearby ones, should support Istanbul.”