Mental Health Team on the Job Following Erika

from Government of Dominica
Published on 18 Sep 2015 View Original

Many people do not see themselves needing mental health services after a disaster. However, the emotional wellbeing of trauma victims is essential.

This is why the Mental Health Team of the PMH’s Psychiatric Unit led by Chief Psychiatrist, Dr. Griffin Benjamin has been visiting communities across the island tending to those most affected by Tropical Storm Erika.

GIS News spoke with Dr. Griffin Benjamin in an exclusive interview on Wednesday September 16th.

He says the mission has been doing its work in group settings.

“Within a week of the disaster, the Ministry of Health had mobilised its Mental Health Unit and we strategically decided to focus on groups not individuals” families, shelters, rescue teams, district health teams and the National Emergency Operation Centre…”

He described helping people to “debrief and talk about what happened” before “re-energizing them and helping them feel better.”

The group also targeted those involved in search and rescue and those assisting survivors.

Just three weeks after Erika, Dr. Benjamin explained that it is time for the island to begin to experience a sense of normalcy.

He says everyone have been affected to a certain degree.

While some communities were able to bounce back quickly others are taking more time to stabilise.

“You go to an area like Colihaut where the community mobilized itself into cleaning houses and cleaning debris. That community is well-advanced in its recovery. Coulibistrie, on the other hand, still seems helpless…Coulibistrie sat in a state of shock for weeks. At the end of the third week, we still believe that there is a lot of mobilizing to be done for the people of Coulibistrie to recover.”

An eight member team from the Massy Foundation of Trinidad has also joined in the efforts to help bring back a sense of normalcy.

They report that the initial reaction to the Tropical Storm Erika varied from shock to helplessness, disbelief and confusion. This, experts say, has been negatively affecting people’s ability to work.

GIS News also spoke to Wendell de Leon of the Massy Foundation who says several people are still in a state of denial and many still have to grapple with having lost what they have worked for years to achieve.

De Leon explains some of the long term and short term consequences if traumatized persons are not reached.

“We might want to think that the worst is over but the worst is not yet over because we are still dealing with a level of hyper-vigilance. Every time it rains, people go back to that place of trauma. What does that do to, not just an individual, but an entire community?”

He described a train of thought which could take root, “Inhibitions which I had before, I’m going to throw them away because I didn’t get to live life and I almost lost my life so now I’m going to drink...”

De Leon says addiction to drugs and alcohol, and sexual impropriety could become issues.

He says the objective is to teach victims that they can move on and rebuild.

“There seems to be two Dominicas: one that is ok and one that is not. Some people want to get back to a sense of normalcy but it’s difficult when you have other people trailing far behind…

“I’m saying to those in shelters, you were placed there temporality; you still have your values and principles. You need to stand up for them.”