Tonga’s mental health is a concern, as the country’s recovery from the January volcanic eruption has been hampered by the current Covid-19 restrictions. According to the Pacific Medical Association of New Zealand, people are beginning to exhibit symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

The Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcanic eruption was a once-in-a-thousand-year calamity. The tsunami and ash cloud fallout that resulted have devastated the Kingdom. Hundreds of homes were destroyed and entire villages were wiped out by 15-metre-high waves. Fortunately, only three people were killed.

“They thought it was World War III,” Amanaki Misa, the Pacific Medical Association team leader stationed in Tonga, explained.

Misa and his team of mental health professionals have been in Tonga since March 30 to aid in humanitarian efforts. His team focuses on training nurses and social workers for mental health rehabilitation, which is an underdeveloped area of health in Tonga.

“So far, we’ve held six training sessions with 134 participants, 99 online and 34 in person.” “We support the NGO and offer counselling services,” Misa explained.

Mary-Rose Muller, a PACMAT nurse, with children from Mango Island Supplied photograph

“We teach breathing techniques, getting enough sleep, exercise, and talking therapies. “Mental health is not openly discussed in Tonga because people are expected to be strong. Just pray, and you should be fine. I teach them that our mental health, like our physical health, is real. You can be physically healthy but mentally ill. “Stress makes no distinctions; it affects everyone.”

The Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai eruption, according to Misa, was a highly traumatic event that caused a great deal of stress and anxiety. He stated that there are signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, particularly in children who have panic attacks triggered by loud sounds similar to the volcanic explosion.

The sound was so loud, according to Nasa, that it could be heard as far away as Alaska.

“They described it as deafening, and it caused a great deal of stress and anxiety,” he explained.

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