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China's quake heroines struggling with psychological stress
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She is strong and brave during the day, but in the darkness of night, Jiang Min is seized with pain and agony.

"I don't like night," said the policewoman from Pengzhou of Sichuan Province, a city devastated by the May 12 earthquake.

Ten of Jiang's relatives died in the quake, including her mother and two-year-old daughter. Despite her tremendous grief, Jiang did not leave her post as more and more displaced people came to Pengzhou seeking help. It was up to police, like her, to find shelter and food.

In the weeks following the earthquake, Jiang worked non-stop at temporary shelters. She said she barely slept. Exhaustion eventually caught up with her and Jiang fainted. She had to be taken to the hospital.

Honored by the central government and seen by millions of Chinese as a national heroine, Jiang said she is still struggling with nightmares from that day. Work distracts her from her grief.

"I don't know how I struggled through those days," Jiang said. "My heart ached whenever I thought of my daughter and mother... I even don't know where they are," said she, fighting back tears.

Born in 1980, Jiang led a quiet life before the earthquake. Hanging out with friends, going shopping and drinking tea were her favorite activities.

"Life was carefree then," said she.

The earthquake changed everything.

"The most relaxed moment I have now is when I gather and chat with female colleagues," said Jiang, who was in Beijing for the Tenth National Women's Congress. "We sometimes cried and screamed and we felt better after that."

Another widely recognized policewoman, Jiang Xiaojuan, was also trying to overcome the psychological impacts from the earthquake.

Dubbed "police mom" by netizens, Jiang Xiaojuan breast-fed nine infant quake survivors. Her own six-month-old son was left with grandparents and fed powdered milk.

"I feel guilty about my son," she said.

The policewoman, from Jiangyou city, didn't lose any family members in the quake. Jiang said she was much luckier than many other bereaved people. But still, the horrific experience left her with emotional trauma and she gets upset easily.

"I try not to think about what happened," Jiang said. "It takes time to really get out of it."

Sichuan Provincial Women's Federation Chairwoman Chen Fang said women in quake-affected areas were as brave as men in the face of the tragedy.

"They sometimes had to take on more pressure than men, especially those women who lost their husbands or children."

Chen said besides psychological support from professionals, material support is also important.

The chairwoman said her federation was providing occupational training to hundreds of female survivors as well as finding them jobs.

"Helping survivors resume a stable life can also partly ease their stress and pain," Chen said. "It will be a long-term project to help women recover from the psychological trauma of the quake and I hope society would show them compassion and understanding."

The police bureau Jiang Min is working for has arranged psychological counseling on several occasions for employees. Jiang said talking to psychologists was helpful.

"But you still have to rely on yourself to get over the psychological stress. Otherwise no matter what the experts say, it just won't work on you," Jiang said.

(Xinhua News Agency October 31, 2008)

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