Counsellors watchful as hurricane season advances

As the hurricane season approaches, educators, counsellors and psychologists are on the lookout for renewed signs of distress among the general population and groups of students.

Doctors continue to struggle with post-Ivan stress disorders, although signs of improvement, they say, are emerging. But they remain alert to problems that may recur with new storm warnings.

‘We just don’t know what to expect,’ said Dr. Louise Malcolm, educational psychologist with the Ministry of Education, Human Resources and Culture.

‘Things have been getting better, but as soon as the warnings come, we don’t know what’s going to happen. We’re on pins and needles right now,’ she said.

Dr. Malcolm has been helping operate post-Ivan counselling programmes in schools. She says children of all ages have sought help.

‘Through our psychological support group and through teachers, we identify students. We work on a one-to-one basis in very severe cases, and in group therapy for those who are more willing to talk once they realise that their experiences are not unique.’

She was unable to estimate numbers, saying different counsellors have worked at different times with different populations, but that the efforts extended from primary schools right through secondary education and involved parents and even faculty.

‘When it starts to rain, they sometimes worry. There are others who have lost pets or other things they were attached to. There is a great deal of emotional stress,’ she said.

‘Some lost their homes, and some parents are living separately because of (problems with) accommodation.’

The anxiety surrounding loss is what Terry Delaney, counsellor, social worker and training consultant, calls the destruction of ‘the dream’.

Stability and routine create a kind of psychological familiarity, a steady rhythm to daily life that people expect to continue. The shocking fury of Ivan and the enormous losses it caused disrupted more than property.

‘It’s really people’s sense that life will (always) be the way it is. Loss upsets the belief system that we live in,’ he said.

Mr. Delaney said he was seeing as many people, if not more, than six months ago, and that 60 percent of those he sees in any given week, ‘have issues (related) to the storm.’

The changes in the six months since Ivan are subtle, marked by a shift of emphasis.

‘They are not looking at the storm as the source. Emotionally they want to say, hey, I don’t have a roof.

‘For people who are having trouble in their marriage, for example, not having a home is no help.

‘People are having issues with trust and with anger. They call and say they are losing their temper and never used to, or they are driving down the road and burst into tears.’

The sense of loss is so enormous, Mr. Delaney said, that it has affected an entire country, a scale he has never before witnessed.

‘Pastors, leaders of government, everyone, they are overwhelmed with responsibility and sadly, what (is now coming) to the surface is the negative.

‘At first, people said how lucky they were,’ that they still had certain things that had not been lost, Mr. Delaney said.

‘But now they are focussing on what isn’t there. The country is going through a different phase now because you don’t have the flurry of activity you did at first.’

The initial outpouring of aid and sympathy, the arrival of rebuilding supplies, the banks’ postponement of loan payments, all contributed to a sense of hope and collective action in the face of shared adversity.

‘It’s quieter now, and that’s tough on people,’ Mr. Delaney said, ‘and people are saying it’s been six months now.’

Still, he said, improvements are visible and people are recovering steadily, if slowly.

‘Wounds are definitely healing. People are resilient and strong. It doesn’t take all that long.

‘The Ministry for Education is doing some great work (with children) and there are hotlines and community (programmes) There are resources out there,’ he said.

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