Coping in the aftermath

In the wake of the devastation of Hurricane Dorian on Abaco and Grand Bahama, the vulnerable population – the elderly, people with mental disorders, children and adolescents, should be closely supervised, with particular attention paid to the elderly and those with mental disorders, for any type of psychosis or relapse of their disorders, according to a psychiatrist.

Sandilands Rehabilitation Centre consultant psychologist, Dr. Kirk Christie, said many adults may be left feeling helpless with a sense of fatalism, especially if they’ve been displaced from their home, but he encourages them to hug their children, talk and listen to them, and give them positive reassuring messages as opposed to rowing in the aftermath of the meteorological disaster.

“Where adults are feeling helpless … they’re fatalistic and they’re negative or feeling depressed, and children can pick up on these types of behaviors and feelings, so it’s very important for parents to rally around their children and give them positive reassuring messages,” said Christie.

“This hurricane would be termed a meteorological disaster. A disaster is defined as trauma that overwhelms a community’s ability to cope.”

The psychiatrist is among doctors and social workers who are rallying and Christie will be among some of the initial first responders known as psychological first aid (PFA) to assist people psychologically and emotionally.

PFA provides support for families that have been displaced by disaster and reconnects family members in the early days after the all-clear has been given by the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA). It is a humanitarian approach to people who have been impacted by a disaster.

“The whole goal for PFA is to ensure safety of persons right after the disaster. It brings a calming effect because you’re talking with people who are listening to you trying to figure out what your needs are and to address those needs,” said Christie who is trained in PFA.

“This was a fierce storm. There may be persons who are hysterical, crying uncontrollably, and are inconsolable, especially in cases where persons may have lost someone in the storm or haven’t heard from someone in their community, which can cause hysteria or panic attacks.”

During a Monday evening press briefing, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis confirmed five deaths that occurred as a result of Hurricane Dorian which ravaged Abaco and hovered over Grand Bahama, and that relevant agencies were readying for search, rescue, and recovery.

Christie, a 13-year practicing psychiatrist and substance misuse specialist, said people who have encountered life-altering changes due to the ravages of previous storms may have suffered effects such as anxiety and fear ahead of Hurricane Dorian and may have effects immediately after the storm, which he said are normal.

“Some people have anxiety, but not to the point of panic attacks, where they are anxious and feel their heart racing. They may have other anxiety symptoms such as the feeling of sensation of butterflies in their stomach; whereas, some people complain of headaches and feeling lethargic, which are common responses to the event that has happened.”

Depression, said Christie, is one of the common acute symptoms/disorders that would be seen after a catastrophe, and that some people may develop substance abuse disorders as a coping mechanism.

“There will be displaced persons because a lot of homes were damaged, so displacement can bring the feeling of a lack of safety, and because of that sensation of a lack of safety, people could become fearful, and they’re worrying. They may become hyper-vigilant … jumpy. If they hear the wind howling that may provoke the feeling of anxiety. There are some people who have reliving episodes, so acute stress disorder is the common symptom that occurs and that is a pre-cursor to post-traumatic stress disorder; it’s just a continuum.”

Acute stress disorder, Christie said, can evolve into PTSD.

“Right after having experienced the event, many persons felt as if they would have perished in the storm, so their lives were threatened with fatality. Usually, that happens right after the event and can last up until four weeks after the event, and then it would be called acute onset post-traumatic stress disorder. But within the first four weeks after the disaster, it’s called acute stress disorder. It can evolve into acute onset and so the symptoms become more and more intense, and longer-lasting.”

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Shavaughn Moss

Shavaughn Moss joined The Nassau Guardian as a sports reporter in 1989. She was later promoted to sports editor. Shavaughn covered every major athletic championship from the CARIFTA to Central American and Caribbean Championships through to World Championships and Olympics. Shavaughn was appointed as the Lifestyles Editor a few years later.

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