After Mexico’s earthquakes, ‘faith opens doors to psychological care’

A young woman holding a statue of Mary is comforted by family members of a person trapped in the rubble of a collapsed building on Sept. 26 in Mexico City. Five days after the deadly magnitude 7.1 earthquake, the collapsed seven-story office building is one of the last hopes searchers believe they may still find someone trapped alive. (CNS photo/Jose Luis Gonzalez, Reuters)A young woman holding a statue of Mary is comforted by family members of a person trapped in the rubble of a collapsed building on Sept. 26 in Mexico City. Five days after the deadly magnitude 7.1 earthquake, the collapsed seven-story office building is one of the last hopes searchers believe they may still find someone trapped alive. (CNS photo/Jose Luis Gonzalez, Reuters)

MEXICO CITY (CNS) — In Mexico City, a truck rattling the street or a car alarm suddenly sounding startle people.

Since the country suffered two major earthquakes in September, Mexicans not only deal with human and material losses, but also with plenty of anxiety.

Advertisement

"Psychologists say that we are only scratching the surface of people's enormous stress," said Enrique Reyes Esqueda, receptionist at a hospitality and service center run by Mexico's branch of Caritas Internationalis, the church's charitable organization, in the city's Tepepan neighborhood. Therapists and psychologists of Catholic-led organizations are attending people's anguish as soon as they can to prevent post-traumatic stress disorder from further unsettling lives.

“People open up more in a faith-friendly environment and faith is a bridge between them and us, it complements the therapeutic work.”

"Faith opens doors to psychological care," Oscar Calvo Luna, a psychologist working at the center, told Catholic News Service. "People open up more in a faith-friendly environment and faith is a bridge between them and us, it complements the therapeutic work."

Although social taboos about therapy are strong, the psychological services at the Caritas office has received 50 percent to 70 percent more people since the earthquakes occurred.

"Half of our new patients are volunteers who are suffering from burnout," Calvo said. Volunteers have witnessed firsthand the wreckage and people who have lost their homes or family members. Others seeking assistance are people who have been overwhelmed and are emotionally paralyzed from the disaster.

“Half of our new patients are volunteers who are suffering from burnout.”

One of Calvo's colleagues, Nelly Luna, believes that speaking about faith in therapy is essential because spirituality is part of human development. People's faith is either strengthened or weakened, she said, "and for those who deny their faith because of the earthquake, we accompany them in their first step of their grieving process. ... Losing one's faith is an additional source of stress."

Ana Maria Saucedo, a psychologist at the medical center of the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, also sees an unbreakable link between faith and psychology. God understands people's emotions because God became human, she said.

"We are human beings and as such we experience things we cannot avoid and the human side of God has lived the same things as us," Saucedo explained. "He also felt alone. He also felt sadness and happiness when he received help, so when people talk to me about their feelings, like the one of feeling abandoned, I try to connect it with a situation that Jesus lived."

“Guilt, like resentment, is like squeezing a hot coal in your hand that you don't want to let go of.”

Most survivors suffer from severe anxiety or guilt. "We ask ourselves a lot of 'whys,'" Reyes said. "'Why couldn't I help? Why did I survive and others died? Why didn't I lose my home but my neighbor did? Maybe it would have been better if it was me instead of those kids who lost their life.' ... People suffer from guilt and over-empathy for victims, preventing them from moving forward with their lives."

"Guilt, like resentment, is like squeezing a hot coal in your hand that you don't want to let go of," Reyes added. "Our spirit gets bruised by an internal mess of negative thoughts, we need to know that we are loved by God and by our neighbor."

Saucedo suggested that survivors are learning to help and be helped by God and other people. Instead of seeing the natural disaster as a punishment from a distant God, many survivors explain how they felt embraced and empowered by God to attend others. Yet anxiety regarding Mexico's rampant violence has also increased since the earthquakes.

"It's because nothing feels safe anymore. People are afraid of leaving their homes, not only because of a possible earthquake but because of street violence," Saucedo told CNS. "In the face of a natural disaster, people responded and felt that something could be done, but in the face of violence and corruption, people feel completely helpless."

Saucedo said she tells her patients that the disaster provides an opening for them to change the world around them for the better and stop the cycle of violence.

October 9, 2017: Several typing errors in this article were corrected.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Dolores Del Castillo
7 months 2 weeks ago

Great article.
Thank you.

Advertisement

Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

 Pope Francis arrives in procession to celebrate Mass marking the feast of Pentecost in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican May 20. The pope at his "Regina Coeli" announced that he will create 14 new cardinals June 29. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
Eleven of the new cardinals are under the age of 80 and so have the right to vote in the next conclave.
Gerard O’ConnellMay 20, 2018
Images: AP, Wikimedia Commons
Bishop Curry described Teilhard as “one of the great minds, great spirits of the 20th century.”
Angelo Jesus CantaMay 19, 2018
Both men were close to each other in life, and both are much revered by Pope Francis.
Gerard O’ConnellMay 19, 2018
The Gaza Nakba demonstrations this week have done nothing to advance the situation of Palestinian refugees, nor did they provide relief to the people of Gaza, who dwell in an open-air prison, hemmed in and oppressed at every turn.