Aftershocks: Beyond a News Headline


Warning: The following content has mentions of death and mental illness that may be triggering for some readers.


When a natural disaster occurs, news stations around the world will often jump on the story, hoping to be one of the first sources to release the newest and most gruesome facts. Immediately after these disasters, the news is often flooded with the same story explaining what happened and the death count, but eventually, these stories are lost to the next celebrity scandal or sports team victory. We may see images of children standing alone with their favourite stuffed animal or a mother crying next to a pile of rubble as journalists attempt to illustrate how much the people have suffered. However, discussions of mental illness and psychological disorders tend to be excluded from the news, meaning that when a disaster occurs, the survivors are overlooked.

Although February 6, 2023, is simply a month ago for most of us, for the people of Türkiye and Syria, it will feel like only yesterday. A 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit the Turkish city of Gaziantep which lies near the Northern border of Syria. A second earthquake, with a magnitude of 7.5, followed just nine hours later. By March 1, 2023, over 10,000 aftershocks had occurred, causing the Turkish president to instate a three-month state of emergency for the affected provinces, which goes to show the severity of the earthquakes.

By February 20, 2023, The Guardian had reported over 47,000 casualties of the earthquakes. Many more were injured and being treated in hospitals in other, less affected, cities. This has undoubtedly left the survivors in states of shock, grief, and mourning. Numerous studies have identified Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and anxiety as two of the most common psychological conditions triggered by these terrifying events. 

Many studies have shown survivors developing medical conditions from these disasters and their anxieties towards them. In a recent study by Beagleghole et al. on the psychological impacts of the Christchurch, New Zealand earthquakes, the researchers found a prevalence of nicotine dependence in the survivors of the disaster. Another study by Lazaratou et al. found that “young adults (17–25 years) came out as the most vulnerable group for the development of psychiatric morbidity. This may be so because they were in a transitional period of their lives, trying to build their personal and professional life, which the earthquake probably overturned.” It’s evident that apart from economic impacts, psychological ones must also be taken into consideration.

Most news reports state that over 160,000 buildings collapsed due to the earthquakes in Türkiye and Syria. The UN stated that over 1.5 million people were left homeless by the disaster. Shortly after the initial earthquakes, rainstorms passed through the area which resulted in freezing temperatures. As much of the city’s infrastructure was destroyed, the survivors were left to face unbearable conditions in makeshift shelters. While no current study has been done on the effects of staying in temporary housing after a disaster, a group of Japanese neuropsychiatrists and researchers suggested that people staying in shelters following the Great East Japan Earthquake disaster in 2011 may have experienced increased distress, sleep disorders, and even depression. 

After a catastrophic earthquake, countries must rebuild what is lost, taking aid from other countries as well as diverting their own funds to the process. While this is necessary to create homes, workplaces, and a community in which people can live, it also means that resources are taken out of other sectors. Since resources must go to the immediate assistance of the survivors, they cannot go into research of the after-effects or towards sectors of mental health. But when a natural disaster strikes, it is important to remember that the story does not stop at the news.

You may be interested in...
There are no current news articles.