As Nigerians rejoice over the release of abducted students of Government Science Secondary School, Kankara, Kastina State, psychologists have warned that the children may suffer Acute Stress Disorder (ASD) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) among others.
Recall that about 344 students were abducted from their school, an all-boys college, on December 11, 2020, by bandits. However, they were released last Thursday.
The experts who spoke to Sunday Vanguard on the psychological implications the incident would have on the victims explained that hostage and kidnapping survivors experience stress reactions like denial, impaired memory, shock, numbness, anxiety, anger, depression, frustration, and a sense of helplessness.
Sharing her thoughts, a Clinical Psychologist and founder of PsychNG Services, Lagos, Mrs. Toyin Abimbola, said liberation always brings a sense of elation and relaxation after being held hostage, even as returning to the real world could be daunting.
She said: “Many hostage survivors face the transition from conditions of loneliness and helplessness to sensory overload and liberty upon release. This transition often results in significant adaptation difficulties. Survivors may also experience stress reactions.”
She listed typical reactions as including intrusive thoughts, denial, impaired memory, decreased concentration, over cautiousness and awareness, confusion or fear of an event occurring again.
Others are shock, numbness, anxiety, guilt, depression, anger, and a sense of helplessness, amongst others.
“Hostage survivors may feel lost or have difficulty managing intense reactions and may need help adjusting to their old life after release. If there are chronic signs of stress, continued numbness, disturbed sleep, as well as other signs, the hostage survivor may want to consider seeking assistance from a licensed mental health professional, such as a psychologist, who can help develop an appropriate strategy to move forward”, she explained. She, however, advised that the rescued boys should be given medical attention, kept in a safe and secure environment, allowed to connect with their loved ones, and avoid overexposure to the media, including watching and listening to the news
“Family and friends can support survivors by listening, being patient, and focusing on their freedom, rather than talking negatively about captors. It is important to realise that families and friends of hostages are also confronted with several issues in dealing with fears and uncertainties. They may also need support in dealing with their emotional reactions”, Abimbola added.
Also speaking, a Psychiatrist, Dr. Julia Ogwunga, said there was the need to understand not only the physical trauma but also the psychological trauma the students must have faced.
She said: “This is an overwhelming traumatic event that can predispose anyone to breakdown psychological or psychiatric conditions.
“These conditions include Acute Stress Disorder (ASD), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Anxiety Disorders, Depressive Disorders, Bipolar Disorders (BD), Somatic disorders among others. ASD can starts immediately one is exposed to an overwhelming traumatic event and can last up to one month, while PTSD can start between one month and six months of being exposed to a traumatic event, and it is chronic.
“It is important that we know that it is not only the kidnapped students that can be affected by ASD and PTSD. Their fellow students who were not taken hostage, whether they were present in school when the event took place, or they heard of it after the event, are also at risk of developing any of these two disorders. Even their teachers and parents, or even relatives are also at risk. For one to develop any of these two disorders, the person will hear, experience it, or witness the traumatic event happening to someone else.
“Apart from ASD and PTSD, any of these students can also develop any of the anxiety disorders, such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder, as well as panic disorder and agoraphobia. Any of the students could develop any of the depressive disorders such as Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). Here, the person will have these three core symptoms such as sadness, loss of interest in things they previously enjoyed and loss of energy.
The student may end up keeping to himself, have crying spells, anger outbursts and bullying. There could be guilt feelings, where the student may believe that any ill-treatment they received while in captivity is their fault. There are problems with sleep, which could be not being able to sleep at all, or sleeping too much. The same issue is with appetite which could be loss of appetite or eating excessively.
Ogwunga, who is the Deputy Director of Health Services, Alvan Ikoku Federal College of Education, Owerri, Imo State, however, hinted that not everyone exposed to a traumatic event would break down with mental health conditions.
According to her, some of the risk factors to developing mental health conditions include, the genetic makeup of the student, especially if any of the parents have mental illness.
She stated that if the mental health conditions were allowed to go on untreated, “complications such as dropping out of school or academic failures, substance use disorder, suicidal behaviors, delinquency, not being able to secure and maintain a job, poverty, and inability to form intimate relationships, among others could arise.
“To prevent any of these mental health conditions in these rescued students, it is important that the students are rehabilitated adequately. This means that they will be handled well and returned to society where they can function adequately. This will require that they be screened to pick out those who are at risk of developing any mental illness. Those who are at risk should be treated by a clinical psychologist and if need be, they can also be treated by a psychiatrist.
“Social support from their family members, friends and from members of their community, including their teachers are very important. These people must be ready to be there for these students and ensure that they do not suffer any longer via any form. Good social support maybe all the student may even need to recover.”
Vanguard News Nigeria