During the first days following the 1999 earthquake in AMA, the prevailing feeling, mostly recorded through the mass media, was that the affected population had an increased need for psychological support. This need for psychological first aid, as well as for information dissemination, seemed to be multiplied many fold and to pertain also to people who were not directly affected by the catastrophic earthquake. This should be attributed to the overwhelming television coverage of the disaster, that has brought this devastating experience to the attention of practically everyone, leading to an increase in numbers of potentially traumatized individuals through close identification with the victims.
To meet these needs, most of the psychological support agencies of the public or other sectors rushed to the more heavily affected areas within the first 3 days. The special service for psychological support of earthquake victims of the Department of Psychiatry of the University of Athens was mobilized. Members of this service formed three psychosocial support units, two of them posted at the periphery of the AMA (within the most severely affected regions) and one centrally located in Eginition Hospital (main facility of the Department of Psychiatry in the downtown Athens area). Also, a telephone helpline unit started operating. These three units were staffed with psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers who volunteered to provide their services to the victims .
Primary aims of these units were to provide pertinent information, relief from the traumatic experience and/or crisis intervention to the victims upon their request. The goal of intervention was not simply the prevention of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but also the management of acute stress reactions, grief, depression, and a host of other maladaptive psychological and behavioral responses according to the individual needs of the victims. Psychological care included mainly listening to the victims while they were referring to their personal experiences and ventilating their emotional overcharge, in addition to prescription of anxiolytic and/or antidepressant medication whenever needed. Also, particular emphasis was given to fostering resilience by providing coping skills training at an elementary level and education about the expected stress response, traumatic reminders and normal versus abnormal functioning. Anxiety reduction techniques to decrease physiological arousal were applied when feasible.
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