Tuesday, October 3

The learning and surviving brain


“The history of mankind is not only the history of art, science and culture, it is also the history of wars, interpersonal violence, oppression and a host of human disasters.” (Brier and Scott, 2016).

In 2022, the EM-DAT (Emergency Database) emergency database recorded 387 natural disasters and disasters around the world. As a result, these events claimed the lives of 30,704 people and affected 185 million people. The total economic losses amounted to about US$223.8 billion. Europe has had at least five record heatwaves with summer temperatures reaching 47°C.

The heat wave has killed more than 16,000 people in Europe, and droughts in 2022 affected 88.9 million people in six African countries (Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Sudan, Niger and Burkina Faso). Drought-induced famine in Uganda claimed the lives of 2,465 people. Hurricane Yang alone caused US$100 billion in damage in the US, making it the costliest catastrophic event of 2022. The human and economic impacts of disasters have been comparatively higher in Africa. While Asia experienced some of the most devastating natural disasters in 2022, their impact on Asia has been comparatively less.

We do not know what report the Emergency Database will present at the end of 2023, because the disaster that occurred in Turkey in the second month of 2023 unfortunately has the right to enter this database. The earthquakes, according to official figures, killed at least 50,000 people in Turkey and at least 8,000 people in Syria, with a total of more than 122,000 people injured. There are people who have disappeared, they cannot be found, whose identity cannot be established, and millions of people have suffered from this catastrophe.


This definition was first used in 1980 when trauma was included in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). Later, American psychiatrist, researcher, educator, and writer Judith Herman, realizing the limitations of this definition in defining trauma, changed this definition in 1992. Injury is no longer uncommon and the definition of injury has been changed as follows:

  • Injured persons have “experienced, witnessed, or experienced an event or events that result in actual or threatened death or serious injury, or threat to the physical integrity of themselves or others.”
  • The person experiences “intense fear, helplessness, and terror.”

Trauma, which was considered under anxiety disorders prior to DSM-5, was discussed along with acute stress disorder and adjustment disorder under trauma and stress-related disorders in DSM-5 (APA, 2013). It has also been defined as a syndrome that can show anhedonic/dysphoric symptoms rather than a specific disorder arising from “fear”, with negative cognitions and behavioral symptoms such as anger, impulsivity, and self-mutilation. In the DSM-5 adaptation, modes of injury were specified with separate criteria to refine the definition of a traumatic event, and sexual assault was included for the first time in the definition (Çolak, Kokurcan, & Özsan, 2010; Özten & Speed ​​Sayar, 2015).

Accordingly, the physiological or emotional reactions of people who have experienced or witnessed events or situations whose bodily integrity is damaged or threatened; ““Reactions in abnormal and extremely stressful situations that are actually quite normal” Our rating is very important.

So how does the brain work after this abnormal and extremely stressful situation?

The experience of “survival” naturally continues for some time for the “surviving brain” experiencing the post-traumatic life. A brain that fights, flees, and freezes like an animal in the face of danger shows some clinical signs of sympathetic nervous system activation.

In post-traumatic stress disorder, the human brain, whose signaling system is disrupted and over-excited, releases high levels of cortisone, and the brain, which is trying to survive, is closed to learning. What he needs is the need for security and trust. This is the need for control. Uncertainty is unbearable, mistakes are scary, because mistakes can become a new danger to the brain. Panic and obsessions begin to dominate the brain, which shakes with the feeling that the world is a safe place.

Thinking about and talking about trauma with survivors can be very uncomfortable. Trauma is often associated with a breach of trust or betrayal, so it can be difficult to trust someone. Survivors often feel guilty for having survived, and sometimes ashamed of having outlived them. He wouldn’t have died if I hadn’t let him go. like.

In the shadows and witnesses of natural disasters and catastrophes recorded around the world our main battle is to stay in brain training mode looks like.

  • If something like this happened to you, what would you urgently need?
  • What would you find most helpful?

In this context, it is very important to know what the needs may be to support the recovery of people affected by trauma. These needs; the need for security, the need for trust, the need for respect, the need for intimacy, and the need for control.

The most well-known theoretical model of trauma and the process of grief after natural disasters is the Kübler-Ros five-stage theory of grief. According to this theory’s point of view, people who mourn a loss after a natural disaster experience the following process accordingly; denial and isolation, the process of anger, the process of bargaining, the process of experiencing depression and the process of acceptance. Emotional reactions given in this process: depression, hopelessness, anxiety, guilt, anger, loneliness. behavioral responses; crying, withdrawal, and burnout. cognitive responses; constant thoughts about the deceased, low self-esteem, thoughts of helplessness, difficulty concentrating, denial. Finally, physiological responses are: substance use, loss of appetite, fatigue, and somatic complaints (Kubler-Ros, 1993).

Yesterday, NASA shared an image of Earth glowing in the darkness of space. This image, showing how humans are shaping the planet and lighting up its darkness, has a lot of meaning. By observing the orbiter from space, we can also monitor short-term changes in the power supply, such as conflicts, earthquakes, and power outages. If we think of this as a metaphor, we must continue to shed light on the dark side of human history while keeping the learning brain alive!

It is in our hands to ensure the continuity of this light by establishing relationships, listening, understanding and connecting with each other.

Emergency database EM-DAT report. Disasters in numbers 2022.
Colak B., Kokurkan A. and Hussein H.O. (2010). The course of the concept of trauma in the DSM. Crisis Journal, 18(3), 19-26.
Kübler-Ross, E. (1993). About death and dying. NY.
Ozten, E., & Sayar, G.H. (2015). Subthreshold post-traumatic stress disorder. Contemporary Approaches in Psychiatry, 7(4), 348-355.

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