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Sewol ferry accident trauma

Posted July. 07, 2014 05:58,   


“He had a smile on his face all the time. How severe the stress would have been…” Dead body of Kim Tae-ho, a senior inspector of the Information Department at Jindo Police Station, was found on Saturday in nine days after his suicide leap from the Jindo Bridge. Inspector Kim had been helping families of missing people at the Sewol ferry accident site. The deceased had been staying in Paengmok Harbor and Jindo Indoor Stadium since the ferry disaster. He dropped by his home in Haenam at a distance of 30 minutes by car. Probably heavy workload played a part behind his suicide. But seeing and feeling the pain of bereaved families could have been much harder.

From some time ago, it is reported that "a retrieved body is presumed to be a male student” when retrieving a body of Sewol ferry victims. It is heard that families are not allowed to see the recovered body considering the family’s emotional and psychological shock, which means the retrieved bodies are too severely damaged. The public is having sad and rough days due to the ferry accident. But traumas of those who recover the dead bodies, perform autopsies, take pictures and see corpse everyday reached a very serious level. People who visited the Paengmok Harbor say they cannot remove the sad atmosphere from their mind for a long time.

Not only the decompression sickness but also mental health is concerned for the divers. Divers are operating in the depth of water that tests limit of human body. They also see and touch body of the deceased. Divers keep jumping into the sea without any proper trauma treatment, solely based on the commitment to bring back more bodies to families. Examiners have also serious trauma as they have to perform identification of the victims. Psychological shock is known to be unspeakable in case of autopsy on damaged bodies. Volunteers are also under stress as they have to watch in proximity the anger and pain of bereaved families. Their negative emotions are directly transferred to the surrounding volunteers.

Encounter with a corpse in any form leaves a deep wound that never easily heals for the rest of a life. In addition to guilt that they fail to fend off the accident, horrible vision comes to mind frequently. As a catholic priest who listens to the confession of sin needs someone else to confess his own sin, doctors or psychotherapists treating trauma victims need treatment. They may make an extreme decision as Inspector Kim who couldn’t overcome the trauma. The mental health issue cannot be on the back burner any more as they directly and indirectly shared a tremendous tragedy together.

Editorial Writer Chung Seong-hee (shchug@donga.com)