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Traumatized citizens call for psychological assistance after Urumqi riot
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Tursun Hasan cannot help but shiver whenever he recalls a horrible scene he witnessed more than a week ago in which a man was beaten to death by thugs using bricks and a huge stone.

The man was among the 192 people killed in the violence that erupted in Urumqi, capital of northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, on the night of July 5.

"I looked down from my second floor apartment, and saw five or six men of the Uygur ethnic group beating up a Han man," said Tursun, a 59-year-old Uygur man.

"They hit him on the head with bricks and one of them knocked him down with a huge stone... At the end of this, they even stole his mobile phone, wallet and watch," he said.

A pious Uygur Muslim, Tursun said he felt his heart was torn with grief. "I didn't eat for three days. Even now, I'm still in horror," he said.

Trauma for all

The riot has inflicted trauma on most of Urumqi's 3.5 million residents, "physically and mentally," said Zhang Zhibin, director of the psychological health center with an Urumqi-based People's Liberation Army hospital.

The center hospitalized 28 patients injured in the July 5 riot and 67 others were treated as outpatients, he said.

"That night, they didn't yell or cry even when they were suffering unbearable pain or undergoing operation without anesthetics. I understand they were in an emotional shock," he said. "About three days later, most of them became irritable and began to shout and curse others.

"We tried to calm them down with comforting words, pats and sometimes medicine," he said. "They are recovering physically, but the psychological trauma still takes time to heal."

Psychological assistance is called for - and not just for the physically injured, but also eyewitnesses of the violence like Tursun Hasan, said Zhang.

"The relatives of the dead or injured, medical workers, policemen, journalists, officials and other citizens who saw the bloodshed on TV or newspapers may all need intervention," he said.

Xu Fei, a reporter with the Xinjiang People's Radio Station, said he had illusions after covering the riot that night. "In my dreams I'm forever running, with new weapons in my hands to attack other people."

Liu Huixia, a nurse at Zhang's center, said she had been depressed for more than a week."I just don't want to talk or eat."

Panic, horror, anxiety, depression, hatred, distrust and other negative emotional states can also be seen from different groups of people, Zhang said.

"You are not alone"

"Studies show that man-made disasters can lead to stronger and longer mental trauma on people than natural disasters. I think all the people in Urumqi need psychological intervention," said Meng Xinzhen, a physician with Zhang's psychological health center.

Shortly after an 8.0-magnitude earthquake jolted the southwestern Sichuan Province in May 2008, the Ministry of Health sent psychological assistance teams to the rescue operation, the first such move in China.

This time in Xinjiang, about 50 psychological counselors and doctors from different hospitals in Urumqi joined the rescue work from the very beginning.

In addition, the Xinjiang People's Radio Station opened a hotline to offer psychological assistance to all citizens who needed help.

"Apart from the local experts, we invited five psychologists from Shanghai to join the service, because Urumqi apparently does not have enough psychological professionals," said Zhang Yi, who supervises the hotline program.

Meng suggested that those who were stressed should learn to vent their negative emotions and pour out their sufferings.

"This can be done by yelling, painting, singing, playing a ball game or doing something beneficial to others to divert their attention," she said. "But drugs and alcohol are not advisable."

Meng called on the public to show love and care to others and advised the injured to help each other shake off the post-riot depression. "For the government's part, it must secure a safe and stable social environment to reassure the residents and boost their confidence in life.

"I just want to tell whoever is suffering mental distress: you are not alone," she said.

Xinjiang's TVs and radios are continuously playing songs, light music and poems that carry the theme of love, unity and hope.

One of the most popular songs in Xinjiang is "One Family", sung by nearly 30 singers from different ethnic groups in the region and heard constantly on TV, taxis and in Urumqi's streets.

Its lyric goes as follows:

"We are all from one family, whose name is China. As family members we don't distinguish 'us' from 'them'. We help each other through thick and thin, and love prevails in times of peril...We are one family and therefore we love each other so."

(Xinhua News Agency July 15, 2009)

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