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MISSING MAS FLIGHT: Kin of those on board MH370 getting more distraught: psychologist

Publication Date : 13-03-2014


The families of passengers and crew members of the MH370 flight are getting more and more distraught each day, said an expert tasked with aiding the relatives.

Clinical psychologist Paul Jambunathan described the situation at Everly Hotel in Putrajaya, where the next of kin have been placed, as “chaotic and highly emotionally driven”.

As the wait for answers continued, he said, the level of emotions also intensified.

“It will only get worse as the probability of survival decreases,” he said when contacted yesterday.

Jambunathan also said that he was concerned about whether the “counsellors” assigned to help the families had the necessary expe­rience to handle such a situation.

“It is a major concern for me that most of them have had no ‘trauma’ experience of this nature.

“Two of them who engaged in discussion with me have never even lost a friend or family member in death.

“I am not saying that one must have had such a background but it is very necessary to provide consistent professional support and not just piecemeal assistance,” said Jambu­nathan, who is attached to a Kuala Lumpur hospital and is a senior­ lecturer at Monash University in Bandar Sunway, Selangor.

In such situations, he said it was crucial for those helping the families to show empathy, instead of sympathy, adding that one of the methods used to help the families would be psycho­education on the various possible outcomes.

“We should not be setting ourselves up for another traumatic experience if ‘bad news’ arrives. We must identify ‘denial’ and start reali­ty,” he explained.

Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, too, said some of the family members were experiencing acute stress.

He also said the families were being given counselling by the ministry’s mental health and psychosocial response team.

“They are experiencing anger and acute distress at certain times.

“However, generally they are coping well with the difficult situation,” he said via SMS yesterday.

Dr Noor Hisham said 11 Malaysians and a New Zealander, including seven women, had sought counselling from the team led by mental health experts based at the hotel.

“They are suffering from hyperventilation, anxiety attacks and acute stress reactions,” he added.

Dr Noor Hisham said a pregnant woman had been referred to hospital for hyperventilation.

Despite the stress they experienced, the family members were coping fairly well and had not shown any symptoms or signs of severe emotional distress, he said.

“Most of the crew members’ children have not shown any psychological symptoms. Family members said this could be due to them being frequently apart from the parents because of the nature of their job.”

Dr Noor Hisham said counselling was offered to all families and next of kin, and through these sessions they were able to identify cases that needed psychiatric or medical attention.

He added that the ministry was also providing psychosocial support to caregivers of the family members from the Special Assistance Team of Malaysia Airlines.


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