China Focus: Psychologists concerned about missing plane family members
                 English.news.cn | 2014-03-13 16:54:23 | Editor: Yang Yi

BEIJING, March 13 (Xinhua) -- As myriad information fuels surging anxiety among the family members of passengers on board the missing Malaysian flight, experts have become concerned about their mental well-being.

Despite the airline advising passengers' families to "prepare for the worst result," it will surely be hard for many of them, awash with helplessness and despair, to let go of hopes for the survival of their loved ones.

Flight MH370, an Malaysia Airlines plane, has been missing for more than five days since contact with it was lost early on Saturday.

It was flying over the Ho Chi Minh air traffic control area in Vietnam and carrying 227 passengers, including 154 Chinese.

Experts worry that the spreading negative emotions will take a heavy toll on the emotional well-being of the family members, who have been provided with no professional counseling thus far.

Fang Xin, director of the psychological counseling center with Peking University, said that the daily drip-drip of information, be it true or false, will inevitably cause mood swings among the family members and increase their levels of discomfort.

"The unknown fate of the passengers will have generated severe insecurities and anxiety in them," Fang said.

She added that people in situations like this generally remain in a state of anger and denial at such an early stage, with their condition likely to involve fatigue, insomnia, loss of appetite, or even depression.

Fang's view is echoed by Yao Yao, a volunteer who has provided mental help in the past four days for the relatives at the Lido Hotel, the Beijing venue accommodating many of the family members.

"I could feel them reaching breaking point as helplessness began to eat away at their hopes," Yao said.

The volunteer is experienced in providing psychological support. She helped relatives of victims in the fatal Asiana Airlines crash in 2013. But this time around, the task has proved to be more complicated.

In the case of Asiana Airlines flight 214, the victims already knew the result of the catastrophe, she explained, and what she did was to help them accept reality and rebuild their confidence.

"But right now it's all about the uncertainties," Yao said, adding that she and other volunteers have just "lent ears to them" all the while, so that the relatives could express their repressed feelings.

For those who did not want to talk much, Yao and her colleagues simply stood by their side, occasionally offering a cup of water or a tissue.

Li Xu, a psychologist with the Chinese Psychological Society, said that whatever has happened to the missing jet, it is essential to engage relatives psychologically.

Li added that volunteers should be complemented with professional support.

"Psychology professionals should engage relatives on an individual basis and assess their mental state to help them get through this difficult time," said the psychologist.

Mental health experts should accompany relatives when authorities brief them on the latest developments in the search, as they can soothe families and friends of those missing and help them better digest the news,according to Zhang Haiyin, a doctor with the Shanghai Mental Health Center.

Fang Xin suggested a fixed time each day for releasing all the news about the missing jet, which will require better coordination between various agencies.

"This will give families a sense of certainty and control over what's going on," in Fang's view.

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