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Dealing with a distant disaster.

Dealing with a distant disaster

Emotional aftershocks of the massive earthquake that devastated Soviet Armenia in December 1988 struck Armenian teenagers in Los Angeles during the first week after the disaster, according to a report in the July BULLETIN OF THE MENNINGER CLINIC.

Interviews with Armenian-American adolescents, conducted by Viken V. Yacoubian, a graduate psychology student at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, and the late psyciatrist Frederick J. Hacker, uncovered few of the post-traumatic stress reactions of people directly exposed to a disaster. The Los Angeles teenagers did, however, express considerable guilt and remorse over having lived while others died; they strongly identified with the victims and reported a great deal of rage linked to the catastrophe.

At first, many of the teenagers -- students at a private Armenian school where Yacoubian is a teacher and counselor-rushed into hectic disaster-relief activities. They said they could tolerate their grief only by constantly doing something. Students exerted strong pressure on one another to make great sacrifices for the cause. Doubters who questioned the usefulness of specific relief activities "were quickly silenced and severely attacked," the researchers say. Most of the students expressed strong resentment toward teachers and parents who wanted them to maintain regular school hours.

A number of teenagers experienced what the researchers call "participation envy," an envious resentment at being excluded from what was perceived as a unique experience rallying Armenians throughout the world. These students often developed fantasies of being magically transported to Armenia to assist survivors directly.

On the other hand, the researchers note, the students did not express religious doubt or anger at God in the week following the earthquake. They attended more church services and prayer meetings, the investigators say, pointing to a renewed link between national Armenian and religious Christian loyalty.

Yacoubian and Hacker interviewed two groups of students ranging in age from 15 to 18 years. One session, with 25 students, occured five days after the disaster. A second session, with 20 students, took place eight days after the earthquake.
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Title Annotation:Behavior
Publication:Science News
Date:Aug 5, 1989
Words:338
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