Online tsunami test finds large echo

The tsunami wreaked havoc with people's minds too Keystone

An internet test to help people find out if they can cope with the aftermath of December’s tsunami in southeast Asia has attracted considerable interest.

This content was published on April 21, 2005 minutes

The test, developed by Zurich University and completed by 3,740 people, has found that six out of ten of them ought to seek help.

About 15,000 people have visited the special site that contains the questionnaire.

The anonymous test has 44 questions and is designed to detect if people are suffering from psychological problems and need treatment.

Risks include post-traumatic stress disorder, major depression, anxiety disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder, according to the head of the project Stefan Vetter.

"It shows that of the Swiss population about 61 per cent are in danger of having such a disorder and should go to a family doctor to continue evaluation of the symptoms, so that those who really need it have the possibility to benefit from early therapies," Vetter told swissinfo.

Joint project

The online test has been developed particularly for Swiss and is a joint project of the university’s Centre for Disaster and Military Psychiatry and the Swiss Academy for Military and Disaster Medicine.

It is aimed not only at people directly affected by the undersea quake, but also their relatives or those who have been deeply moved or shocked by media photographs, or by eyewitness accounts.

The questions are simple and to the point. They include: Do you feel depressed? Are you easily irritated? Do you suffer from insomnia?

Vetter explained there was a whole catalogue of symptoms that could point to psychological strain after such a disaster.

"The first signs are sleep problems, including nightmares and waking up early, then flashbacks and replays which are not very easy to switch off, impaired memory, forgetfulness and impaired concentration."

Survivor guilt

"Others include irritability, panic attacks, hypersensitivity, excessive levels of shame, embarrassment, a kind of survivor guilt for having survived when others perished, and a feeling of having been given a second chance at life," he added.

The centre says that psychological strain may occur one to six months after any disaster and the advice given if such symptoms are present is to seek professional help.

"The first step in Switzerland is the family doctor because we don’t have so many specialists. And since the waiting lists are quite long you need the gatekeeper to bring you quickly into treatment," Vetter said.

People are advised that they may need to fill out the questionnaire several times, preferably at weekly intervals, to help register possible changes in their condition.

After completing the test, the applicant receives an evaluation result that indicates whether a doctor, psychiatrist or health insurance expert should be involved.

If participants give their consent, the data gathered will be used to carry out a group evaluation.

This will then be used by Swiss authorities to develop a health system that can cope with any future psychological and mental health problems resulting from natural catastrophes, other disasters and terrorism.

swissinfo, Robert Brookes

Key facts

The test contains 44 questions and is a joint project of Zurich University’s Centre for Disaster and Military Psychiatry and the Swiss Academy for Military and Disaster Medicine.
The project is to continue for the next few months.
Further test findings are to be published in the middle of the year.

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In brief

The tsunami trauma test has so far attracted 3,740 people, not only from Switzerland but from more than 60 other countries.

About 15,000 people have visited the website that contains the anonymous test.

According to the findings, six out of ten people should seek professional help.

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