Sessions offer coping lessons

With increased instances of medical, emotional and relationship problems post-Ivan, the first in a series of sessions was recently completed to help neighbourhoods cope with stress and illness.

In the midst of the disaster recovery efforts, increased focus is being placed on the well-being of individuals.

Encouraging community outreach, Minister for Health Gilbert McLean also announced the formation of the ‘Neighbours Helping Neighbours Community-Based Support Groups’. Networks will be established under this umbrella, with the impetus coming from small groups in the districts, states a GIS press release.

Personal account

In his comments to the group regarding the hurricane, the minister spoke of his own experiences and observances in the shelters and community.

‘I learned for real the quality of humankind and that, regardless of a person’s status in life, there is equality in humankind,’ he said.

Some 600 hours of training time was compressed into last weekend, with 30 volunteers donating time preparing to assist their communities. These trainees represented a cross-section of the community – from teachers and health practitioners to church workers and others.

Sessions focused on post-disaster emotional symptoms, grief and loss, and the methods and characteristics of group therapy. The training was facilitated by Dr. Karen Dunbar, who is experienced in training people with anxiety, post-traumatic stress and other issues. She was assisted by other presenters.

The minister added, ‘Ivan has placed strains on most of our material, social, physical and psychological systems. No one remained untouched and we face the task of bringing our lives and activities to some degree of normalcy.’ He also thanked the volunteers and organisers.

Last week’s training programme included relaxation exercises, video presentations and case studies.

Facilitators emphasised that the work to be done in the districts will not be formal counselling. Instead, it will encourage residents to help each other through stress-related issues – from family and work to housing and transportation.

Negative effects

To combat negative physical side-effects — including fatigue, appetite changes, tightening of the throat and the worsening of existing illnesses — participants will be encouraged to release their emotions, to talk, draw or otherwise express their feelings.

Prospective participants for the group therapy may self-refer, and or may be referred by various agencies that may detect the need for assistance for stressed clients. These people will be encouraged to participate, and will be referred to specialists for professional counselling if this is deemed necessary.

The people who will be assisted first are children and the elderly.

These two target groups will be hosted in small discussion sessions beginning next month. They will be followed by other key groups such as police, medical, fire and other emergency workers, caregivers who might be suffering from ‘compassion fatigue’, as well as other persons who are experiencing high levels of stress.

Discussions and shared experiences will be ‘steered to a positive conclusion’ by the facilitators, and any advice provided will be relevant to the services of local counsellors and other agencies.

Deputy Permanent Secretary Diane Montoya organised the training and told the group that their work was essential in preventing permanent negative changes in the fabric of local families.

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