January 7, 2014
Psychological repair just as important – Therapist

Psychological assistance is being made available to victims of the Christmas floods and other recent natural disasters in St Vincent and the Grenadines.{{more}}

Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves, during a press conference yesterday, said among us, there are people who have suffered through three natural disasters.

“They have suffered from Tomas in October 2010. They have suffered from the April floods. Now they have suffered from the Christmas Eve floods. Among these people are persons who have had to bear the pain of the loss of banana preferences.

“…The point is this: people are suffering psychological problems. Imagine you have taken such a battering; you have to ask yourself what am I to do, where can I turn?” Gonsalves said.

The Prime Minister said counsellors from the Ministries of Health and Education are being made available to assist persons who may need help.

And, according to Dr Jozelle Miller, health psychologist at the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital, in the aftermath of a major disaster, psychological repair is just as important as efforts to restore infrastructure and normalcy.

“The persons who experienced or witnessed the disaster first hand, and those who responded in an attempt to rescue the living and later recover the dead, would have undoubtedly suffered the most,” Miller told SEARCHLIGHT.

She, however, said even those watching images of the disaster on television or on social media, or listening to the events unfold on the radio, are “unwittingly exposing themselves to what for many would be a severe stress.”

In an interview with SEARCHLIGHT on Sunday, Miller said the majority of individuals experiencing a severe disaster will develop some symptoms in the immediate aftermath, which although abnormal in any other setting, are normal under the circumstances.

“These symptoms will resolve in the great majority of cases over a period of time,” she said.

The psychologist, however, said it will be useful for persons and family members take note of themselves and each other, and be able to identify when something seems off with their functioning and get help before it becomes severe.

“Look out for symptoms such as a prolonged sense of helplessness and hopelessness; hyper sensitivity to weather changes; despair; guilt; irritability; nightmares or the inability to sleep or interrupted sleep patterns; anxiety seen as sweaty palms; palpitations, accelerated heart rate and pulse; paranoia,” Miller advised, adding that persons should avoid the use of negative coping measures, such as alcohol or drugs, “which all prove to be counter-productive.”

Miller, who has been employed as a psychologist in the Ministry of Health since 2005, said counselling support is available through both the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education.

“Education counsellors have been out in communities already and will continue again during the upcoming weeks. Because they have more human resources than is available in the Ministry of Health, they will cover most of the groundwork and make referrals to the psychologists available in the Ministry of Health,” she said.

The health psychologist however said, from her observation, persons have been showing signs of resilience since the Christmas disaster. She said they have been trying to regain a sense of normalcy by seeing what can be salvaged from their properties and trying to gain needed help.

“But it is early days yet and we anticipate that as the dust settles, we would see more persons with possible signs of post traumatic stress disorder. If this be the case, we have trained personnel to assist with this in the Ministry of Health…at MCMH and Mental Health,” Miller said.