Over 7,200 Marawi crisis evacuees face mental health issues

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Marawi City (CNN Philippines, August 7) — "Michael," not his real name, was almost killed by members of the ISIS-inspired Maute group, who have been fighting government troops here since May 23.

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To escape the fighting, the 29-year-old and his family walked for several hours to get to an evacuation center in Iligan City, some 38 kilometers away from conflict-torn Marawi.

Michael, who worked as a tricycle driver, said he is unsure how his family will survive in the coming days now that he lost his livelihood.

"Problema po namin (kung paano) makakakain ng maayos [Our problem is how we will eat properly]," he said.

To make matters worse, one of his five kids suffers from an illness that remains untreated.

Volunteer doctor Jay Tia said this could be one of the reasons why Michael is now mentally distressed.

The Lanao del Sur Provincial Health Office said on August 6 that 7,248 evacuees from the  Marawi crisis need mental health intervention and psychosocial support.

Seventy-eight of them had severe mental health issues and were hospitalized.

Meanwhile, 6,574 evacuees need focused interventions like the one-on-one therapy sessions that Michael is undergoing. In addition, 529 need community and family support.

Marawi Crisis Management Committee Spokesperson Zia Alonto Adiong said they need more experts to deal with this emerging crisis, as well as more food supplies to ensure proper nutrition and better state of mind of evacuees.

READ: Do more than #PrayforMarawi: Where to donate

Adiong told CNN Philippines' The Source on July 25 that some 2,500 internally displaced persons (IDP) showed initial signs of schizophrenia.

Read: Lanao Crisis Committee: 2,500 IDPs show signs of schizophrenia

"They already made up their own reality to escape their suffering," he said.

Over 400,000 have been displaced by the Marawi crisis, with almost 27,000 of them scattered across 87 evacuation centers, according to a press briefing with the Presidential Communications Office on July 17.

Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial on July 17 enumerated their mental health services to IDPs to include psychosocial first aid, processing, and stress coping mechanism.

However, Adiong said debriefings can only do so much.

"Every time nakikipag-usap [If you talk to them]... it's not grounded on reality. When they talk, they are not in the exact place they are in... Parang wala sila sa [It's like they're not in an] evacuation center," he said.

But despite the hardships he and his family have gone through because of the prolonged conflict, Michael knows exactly what he wants.

"Makauwi kami sa amin (at) pamuhay ng maayos [To go back home and have a decent life]," he said.