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Soc Sci Med. 2008 Sep;67(5):844-53. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2008.05.014. Epub 2008 Jun 16.

Coping with the Asian tsunami: perspectives from Tamil Nadu, India on the determinants of resilience in the face of adversity.

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Department of Psychiatry, Christian Medical College, Bagayam, Vellore 632002, Tamil Nadu, India.


The Asian tsunami of December 26, 2004 wreaked havoc along the southeastern coast of India and resulted in devastating losses. The high rates of long-term mental health consequences in adult survivors predicted immediately after the disaster have not been borne out by recent surveys. This qualitative study explored the psychological impact of the tsunami on survivors with a view to gaining insights into the ethno-cultural coping mechanisms of affected communities and evaluating resilience in the face of incomprehensible adversity. We conducted focus group discussions 9 months after the tsunami with two groups of fishermen, two groups of housewives, a group of village leaders and a group of young men in four affected villages of Nagapattinam district in Tamil Nadu, India. In spite of incomplete reconstruction of their lives, participants reconstructed meaning for the causes and the aftermath of the disaster in their cultural idiom. Qualitative changes in their social structure, processes and attitudes towards different aspects of life were revealed. Survivors valued their unique individual, social and spiritual coping strategies more than formal mental health services. Their stories confirm the assertion that the collective response to massive trauma need not necessarily result in social collapse but also includes positive effects. The results of this study suggest that interventions after disaster should be grounded in ethno-cultural beliefs and practices and should be aimed at strengthening prevailing community coping strategies.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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