Psychologist stresses the need to preserve mental health post-flood
A traumatic incident like the extreme flooding currently affecting Trinidad and Tobago can turn lives upside down and can also affect citizens both emotionally and psychologically.
This, according to clinical psychologist Dr. Katija Khan. Khan is a university lecturer and current president of the Trinidad and Tobago Association of Psychologists. In a statement to Loop, she indicated that disaster relief should include both physical and mental resources.
"Disaster relief efforts are gaining ground and part of this involves addressing the mental health of those affected in our communities. It is important that we know what to expect and how we can help ourselves and help each other cope."
Khan outlined several reactions that can be expected both during and in the immediate aftermath of the flooding. They may experience a range of emotional, psychological, cognitive/mental, physical and social reactions.
People’s reactions and responses will also vary widely. Some of these might include:
-Difficulty making decisions
-Problems with attention
-Problems with memory
-Rapid heart rate
-Grinding of teeth
-Aches and pains
-Arguments with friends and loved ones
-Change in sexual desire or functioning
-Increased smoking, increased alcohol or drug use or abuse
"These feelings are normal reactions, and there is no right or wrong way to feel or react," Khan reassured. "People have been affected in different ways and we all have different ways of responding.
"How someone reacts to a disaster is based on many things, for example, their age, gender, past experiences with flooding, the resources they have available, their current mental health, and coping strategies. It may also take some time before they feel better."
In the weeks and months to come
"Ideally, the psychological effects will fade with time as life returns to normal and with good social support. However, this may not be the case for everyone," Khan stated. "'Watchful waiting' is a good approach in which you keep an eye on how you and others are doing. If the feelings don’t go away or are getting worse and affecting daily life, you may need more help.
"For some people, they might develop a depression, post-traumatic stress disorder or an anxiety disorder. Strong social support from family, friends and community members will be critical. Some persons may also go on to need professional help from a psychiatrist, psychologist or social worker."
How to cope
-Limit your exposure to graphic news stories about the flood
-Get accurate, timely information from credible sources
-Accept help from family, friends, community members
-Educate yourself about health hazards and safety information
-Get back to your normal routine as soon as possible, this is especially important for children
-Exercise, eat well and rest as best as you can
-Stay busy- physically and mentally
-Communicate with friends, family, and supporters
-Use spirituality and your personal beliefs
-Keep a sense of humour
-Express yourself through writing, poetry, drawing, etc., this is especially good for children
-Talk and share your feelings with others
If you are concerned about suicide
The additional stress and problems posed by the floods may lead to hopelessness in some and trigger suicidal thoughts, especially if they have experienced depression before. Talking openly and listening without judgment can help. Asking won’t harm them, talking about suicide won’t increase the chances that someone will act.
Khan urges affected persons to call Lifeline at 800-5588, 220-3636, 231-2824, visit their nearest health or wellness centre or talk to a doctor. If you are concerned about someone and think it is an emergency, you can call 999.
Free psychosocial and counselling support is available from the National Family Services Division 623-2608 ext 6701 – 6707 or the Ministry’s toll-free hotline at 800 – 1MSD. If you work at a company that has an EAP (Employee Assistance Programme), contact them and you can arrange to see a psychologist.
What can you do to help someone cope with the flood disaster?
-Explain that their feelings and reactions are normal
-Identify specific needs that you can help with
-Listen to them and encourage them to talk when they feel ready
-Help them keep to a regular routine
-Help them find ways to relax
-Help them resolve day to day conflicts so they don’t build and add to their stress
-Help them identify sources of support
Note: Some of the information has been adapted in parts from sources including New Jersey Department of Human Services-USA, Cumbria-UK Government, and Health Protection Agency-UK.
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