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Help your traumatised child

By Vision Reporter

Added 18th April 2008 03:00 AM

WE are all chilled to the bone from hearing of the 19 children who were burnt to death in the Budo Junior School fire on Monday night. Spare a thought for those little children who saw it happen.

WE are all chilled to the bone from hearing of the 19 children who were burnt to death in the Budo Junior School fire on Monday night. Spare a thought for those little children who saw it happen.

By Lydia Namubiru

WE are all chilled to the bone from hearing of the 19 children who were burnt to death in the Budo Junior School fire on Monday night. Spare a thought for those little children who saw it happen.

“I heard my friends screaming but it was like I was dreaming. I woke up and found thick smoke, then the dormitory caught fire,” says Vicky Nakimbugwe.

“We fetched a lot of water and poured it on the fire but it did not stop. The girls could not come out because the fire had started at the door,” says Richard Kayondo, a P6 boy.

“I knew all the pupils who died in the fire. My friend Patience Namuyanja also died. We used to share items in class during moments when my pencil or her pencil was broken or lost,” Emily Nanjego of P.5 laments. Those who went to the school on Tuesday where spared the sight of the inferno but were met by the heart wrenching sight of children crying, some staring blankly or telling the ordeal over and over again in small voices.

“These children are likely suffer from what we call post traumatic stress disorder,” says Dr. Margaret Mungherera, a consultant psychiatrist with Mulago Hospital. “They may become withdrawn, unsettled, anxious and generally unhappy,” she elaborates, adding that they may also show signs of anger towards their teachers and/or parents and may even feel guilty about what happened to the others. “If the child had the others scream but was unable to help or was close to one of those who died, they may actually blame themselves for it,” she reveals. “They may also get nightmares in which they relive the ordeal,” she further points out.

According to Mungherera, those children who have had previous traumatic experiences are even more likely to suffer from this disorder. “If, for example, the child is living with a parent who is HIV positive, is an orphan or is neglected, they stand higher chances of this trauma setting in,” she explains. The child’s temperament may also contribute to how they are affected. “Those who are easily hurt, are more likely to get traumatized,” she says.

The mental health doctor explains that it may not be evident right away that the child is suffering. “In the first few days, the child may be in shock and disbelief at what happened, but as it begins to sink in, the emotional trauma also sets in,” she says. She, therefore, strongly advises that any child who witnesses a tragedy like the Budo fire be given psychological treatment right away whether or not they show any signs of emotional distress. “I hope that the school had teachers who were trained in counselling and counselled those children right away on Tuesday. Even now that they are home, their parents must seek professional counselling for them,” says the psychiatrist.

Post traumatic stress may also cause behavioural problems in the child so it is impossible to view their behaviour in that perspective. “The child may resumes bed wetting or become naughtier,” Mungherera says.

If untreated, post traumatic stress may affect the children even into adulthood. “If they are not counselled professionally, as adults they may suffer mental disorders such as chronic depression,” she warns.

One can find professional counsellors at the Mulago’s Mental Health department or Butabika Hospital. Some NGOs and churches also have professional counsellors attached to them. To be referred to a counsellor, you can also call the Uganda Counselling Association between 8:30am and 5:30pm on 0392831139.

Help your traumatised child

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