Shock, panic overwhelm islanders

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Shock, panic overwhelm islanders

More and more evacuees from Yeonpyeong Island are suffering from post-traumatic stress in the aftermath of North Korea’s attack on their home island, and counselors and psychologists say they will probably need long-term attention.

“Since I was evacuated from the bombarded island, I can’t close a door in any rooms,” a 79-year-old woman from Yeonpyeong said. “I feel scared even when I’m on the toilet alone.”

Many other elderly women from the island have also been feeling a similar claustrophobia, saying they feel threatened in tight spaces, such as elevators.

Since the National Emergency Management Agency opened a counseling center on Nov. 27 in Incheon, where many islanders are temporarily staying, about 70 evacuees have visited the center to get mental health treatment.

The counselors said the most common symptoms that the evacuees describe are fear and depression.

“The islanders are trapped in horror and every night they dream of their hometown getting bombarded,” said Song Hee-suk, head of the counseling center. “They are also depressed because they don’t know how they will make a living in the future.”

According to the counselors, some of the islanders have suffered from auditory hallucination, memory loss, digestion problems, headaches and insomnia.

Counselors said one islander is feeling guilt for escaping the bombardment, leaving his family behind.

“Even though we consoled him and told him that his reaction [to the shelling] was natural in the heat of the moment, he can’t stop regretting it,” Song said.

Children who fled have also had trouble adapting to life post-attack.

“One child, who was bright and active on the island, turned into an anxious child in the shelter, sticking to his mother,” said Kim Myeong-suk, who used to be a kindergarten teacher on the island.

When the counseling center started painting therapy for younger evacuees, one child drew a rabbit shooting a gun, expressing his fear over North Korea’s attack.

The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family opened another counseling center in the shelter with the primary focus being on families. The ministry has also facilitated a child-care center.

“When I counseled the families of the Cheonan’s sinking, they did not express that much shock, but after six months, they said to me that [they now felt it],” said Jeong Eun-ji, a counselor at the center.


By Lim Ju-ree, Kim Hee-jin [heejin@joongang.co.kr]

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