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The work of a psychologist during the La Palma volcano eruption

Psychology in emergencies

Last September 19, the eruption of the volcano began on the island of La Palma, an island belonging to Santa Cruz de Tenerife, one of the two provinces that make up the Canary Islands. Before this, unusual seismic swarms had been occurring and were increasingly felt with greater intensity and amazement by the population.

Sincethat Sunday, the whole Canary Islands turned to La Palma. The most immediate responses came in the form of dispatches of emergency personnel and professionals who came to the island on a voluntary basis. In addition, the solidarity of the La Palma people themselves was joined by the rest of the islands to provide goods, food and clothing to the people who had been affected.

Psychological assistance after the eruption of the volcano of La Palma

A few days after the volcano eruption I arrived in La Palma to assist as a psychologist. Psychology is not yet expressly included in emergency plans in an official way, although the suffering of people is evident in every natural disaster or similar emergency.

What is emergency psychology?

The psychology of emergencies tries to be a first assistance to provide emotional ventilation and relief trying to prevent major psychological problems over time such as anxiety disorders, depression or others. In addition, such complicated life situations can be triggers that increase suicide rates.

Psychological consequences of the eruption of the La Palma volcano

In the case of a volcanic eruption, it must be taken into account that preventive evictions are carried out and there are two different approaches: people who already know that they have lost their homes engulfed by lava and people who are still waiting to find out what happens to their house. Uncertainty is a very important factor in the latter case, which increases the anxiety symptomatology. In the first case, of those who have already lost their homes, it is necessary to help them to go through the mourning for everything they have lost and to give them professional support so that they can channel and express their thoughts and emotions. There are also people who have lost their jobs, their livelihood through livestock and agriculture and other small businesses in the area.

The lava is not like a fire in which it is possible to return to your home and restore it in part, thus reestablishing your previous setting in some sense. In the case of the volcano, all is lost. The lava goes where it goes and anything in its path is swept away and it engulfs everything it finds and the environment changes drastically. People will never again see the town where they were born or where their sons and daughters grew up. The pain felt is devastating and memories are relived with great nostalgia and sadness.

Likewise, the sound of the volcano prevents people from forgetting this situation and there are more and more people with sleep problems and anxiety and depression symptoms. In children, symptoms such as nightmares and problems in bathroom control are also observed. In addition, children are harmed by the high level of ash, which affects their play areas.

The fundamental role of psychology

Life changes in one part of La Palma in a radical and poignant way, with a situation of devastation for many families. Psychology must play its role at this time in a situation that no one knows how long it will last.

Emergency professionals (firefighters, volunteers from different organizations, health workers, etc.) also need professional therapeutic support. The helplessness is palpable at many moments and the images as well as the testimonies have an emotional impact on the support personnel.

Conclusions

In short, in these situations, work must continue, with the appropriate breaks to be able to return and be useful in the fundamental help they provide. In the meantime, respect in these moments towards the people affected is the best thing to do from all areas, as well as being available and willing to help if required.

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