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Never a more important time for quality mental health care

Almost a week after a series of explosions tore up several blocks in Kaohsiung, most of us have seen the horrifying images of a ragged trench blown through the streets, with cars landing on roofs and houses sagging absurdly. Now, imagine balancing precariously on the edge of the trench, taking a deep breath and lowering yourself in to begin a job you dread.

You dig through bits of rubble and pavement until a stench hits you with such force that you stop. Horrified, but the search has to go on, as the Chinese believe the bodies of the dead must be recovered and given the proper respect.

Then, you chip off a rock to find trails of bloody water.

Right after the explosions, roughly 1,500 troops were dispatched to assist paramedics and firefighters in relief work; rescuing the trapped and salvaging body parts while knowing that some 300 tons of propene, the possible source that sparked the explosions, were still below the ground.

And while the eyes of the public are trained on the victims and the immediate comfort of the rescuers, little thought is given to the hazards that may linger for months after Kaohsiung is slowly pieced back together. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a common nightmare that haunts most frontline workers that deal directly with the dead and injured, and has taken the lives of more Taiwanese police officers and soldiers than the number of guns once pointed at them.

Although gratitude is showered upon the rescuers and paramedics when they are rushing to snatch yet another life away from death, the people rarely give a thought to the damage that slowly chips away at the sanity of these great men and women, who describe the emergency rooms and the explosion sites as a “living hell.”

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