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Red Cross Society of China helps comfort brutal knife attack survivors

“I was seeing off friends at the railway station when suddenly I saw a group carrying long knives starting to slash nearby people indiscriminately. I was so terrified and fled desperately. I was lucky to get away, but later, when I closed my eyes, the horrible scenes frantically flashed in my mind and I could not sleep,” said one survivor, who called the psychological hotline set up by Red Cross Society of China after a knife attack left at least 29 people dead and more than 140 wounded in a busy railway station in Kunming, capital of the southwestern province of Yunnan, China.

By Kevin Xia, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies

The attack took place late on Saturday 1 March, when a group carrying long knives started slashing indiscriminately at waiting passengers and those lining up at ticket windows, sending terrified bystanders fleeing into nearby shops and restaurants to escape the carnage.

Immediately after the attack in the southwestern city of Kunming, Red Cross Society of China Yunnan provincial branch deployed more than 50 volunteers to provide first aid to the injured and to help mobilize blood donations.

Red Cross Team supports survivors

Meanwhile, a psychosocial team of 30 people was being coordinated to provide emotional support for those affected by the violence, including relatives of victims, injured people and those still in shock. A psychosocial hotline is also being set up.

Mo Jie, a member of the Psychosocial Emergency Response Team, decided to use relaxation techniques to help a traumatized caller. Through the phone, she suggested he lie down in a comfortable place and started a conversation with him to help him relax. The process lasted ten minutes until he gradually felt more peaceful.

“We received 136 similar calls on the first day when the psychological hotline was set up on 4 March. The phone didn't stop ringing from 9:00 to 23:00,” said Huang Jing, an official from the Yunnan Branch.

Team note own reactions

The psychosocial team members also noted down their own negative psychological symptoms while providing emotional support to those affected.

“In a situation like this, it is important to remember that helpers are also affected and we must pay attention to their needs as well. The system of monitoring their reactions is very useful, and will help to follow those that need further support,” said Nana Wiedemann, who heads the IFRC Reference Centre for Psychosocial Support in Copenhagen.

Some experts in the team said the horrific scenes of violence caused different types of trauma for different individuals. Some would keep recalling the events with grief, anxiety and depression; some chose to wipe out the memory and refused to remember anything; some would feel dull and unresponsive while others were agitated and overeactive to their surroundings. This required that team members use different and flexible approaches to help them.

“One woman had come to Yunnan on holiday and was on her way to the ancient town of Dali. When she was stabbed, the physical wound was not severe, but she was so deeply shocked that she couldn’t even step out of the door,” said Li Chao, a Red Cross volunteer who is also a state-authorized psychological counsellor. Li decided to go to the hospital to carry out a face-to-face psychological crisis intervention. “After she felt better, we agreed to continue the intervention by phone,” he said.

The team was the only one authorized by the government to provide emotional support to those affected by the violence. Most team members possess professional qualifications in psychology and have participated in several Red Cross operations, such as those following the Yunnan Earthquake in 2012 and Sichuan Earthquake in 2013.

This story was originally published on the International Federation website.

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