After spending three days in an attic hiding from the ravages of Hurricane Dorian, East End resident Sissel Mosvold-Johnson can smile again and is looking to move home this summer.
The Johnsons were rescued on the Wednesday after the storm by local volunteers, after losing their farm and all the farmyard animals, including many beloved horses.
Mosvold-Johnson’s mother was airlifted to Canada for treatment and the Johnsons left the island to stay with friends to recuperate and try to comprehend what had happened to them.
Finally being safe was great for the couple, but dealing with the aftermath and their own mental health was the hardest thing, especially for Mosvold-Johnson.
Struggling with the events of the storm and the loss of her animals, her husband George Johnson prompted his wife to speak to a counselor, Felisha McBride, at the Grand Bahama Resilience Center.
“There are no words to describe how much she helped me over the past two years,” Mosvold-Johnson said.
“In the beginning, we did weekly sessions over the phone, because of COVID times. Then, as I started to feel a little bit better, we would go for two weeks, but if I was feeling particularly down or was having problems, I could message her anytime – and she was there for me. I can’t say enough about her.”
The Resilience Center was opened by Caritas Internationales and CRS (USA), non-profit organizations from the United States, which were on the ground after Hurricane Dorian.
After conducting a needs assessment, they saw a gap in mental health assistance and decided to start the center.
“Originally, we were a two-year project,” said Felisha McBride, executive director.
“The success and need for the center prompted Caritas to keep Resilience open and they have now paid for the center to be registered as a non-profit organization – now named The Bahamas Resilience Center.”
According to the team at the center, they did not have many come to them after Hurricane Dorian for counseling, but McBride credits COVID-19 for starting the conversation and prompting people to ask for help.
“It was following the onset of the pandemic that we started to see clients who came in for issues with depression, anxiety and mental health,” she said.
According to McBride, it was not easy to get the center going, as there is a stigma in the Bahamian community about mental health. But she feels the community center aspect gave them credibility.
“People would come in for training and activities, for young children, seniors and adults – ballroom dancing, arts and crafts, knitting and crocheting. And then, we would see those individuals seeking out counseling,” she said.
The center has also worked with the Ministry of Education to reach out to Grand Bahamians and let them know they are here to help.
The Resilience team has also visited local
government departments to engage in wellness and sensitivity training. Now, with a caseload of over 100 individuals, McBride is very proud of the Bahamians who are coming in.
“Individuals do not seek help willingly but we are seeing people come and be consistent and build the tools they need to live healthy and productive lives,” she said.
With the hurricane season here and the recent tropical storm, Alex, causing flooding damage to over 240 homes, many locals are experiencing anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) about the rest of the hurricane season.
PTSD is a dysfunction that develops in some people who have experienced a shocking, scary or dangerous event. According to various resources, symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.
Dr. Yves Abraham, a certified therapist, who will be hosting the “Kingdom Mental Health Summit” in Grand Bahama on July 2 at Pelican Bay Resort, is well aware of the mental strain traumatic events can cause, including the recent pandemic.
“PTSD impacts individuals in different ways, and how they respond to the trauma is different, too,” Abraham explained. “Some people will mirror each other, but it is not cookie-cutter how they react or handle it.”
She said individuals need to recognize there is an issue and embrace that something is wrong.
Secondly, they should engage or find someone in their community or in their circle who they can talk to about how they are feeling.
“Having interaction with someone else can help minimize the issues going around in your head and balance your thoughts by talking with another individual,” Abraham said.
“Basic things like talking to friends, taking long walks and journaling your feelings [are] extremely important. We need to track how we are thinking and how we are processing. Journaling is an effective strategy to use when we are stressed, anxious, depressed, etc.”
Abraham is excited about her visit to Grand Bahama from Texas to help those looking to help themselves and their loved ones.
“With good mental health strategies or coping skills, and with prayer and the word of God, any individual can get to the other side,” she said.
“We want to help remove the stigma around seeking help and the shame it has in the church community when it comes to mental health.”
Mosvold-Johnson, in the meantime, is doing well and finding other passions after her losses.
“Felisha and another lady suggested I get a hobby after Dorian, as I was not able to be around horses or farming – too much heartbreak,” she explained.
“I chose art. My friend Debbie, who also paints, supported me, and I loved my art classes when I was in Sunland school many years ago.”
Mosvold-Johnson believes that her rediscovered love of art has helped with her anxiety.
“Once I start painting, my anxiety seems to disappear,” she said. “Not altogether, but I can tell when I don’t paint, I have way more anxiety. It was really great having the support and encouragement from Felisha, my friends and family supporting my work.”