Counsellors help Paloma victims

Counsellors will visit Cayman Brac twice a month to lend an ear to Brackers traumatised by Hurricane Paloma.

The Island is still in a state of recovery, with many homes still uninhabitable and displaced residents living in trailers, temporarily renting accommodation, or living with relatives.

The counsellors from the Employee Assistance Programme were on the Brac earlier this month on a recognisance mission to ascertain the type of help that was needed.

EAP Director Tyra Miller said the counsellors would be carrying out sessions for anyone who requested help. She said anyone making an appointment would be told over the phone where they could meet a counsellor.

She admitted there was still a stigma attached to therapy and counselling in Cayman, but hoped that people would take advantages of the EAP services.

The Department of Counselling Services also has a counsellor based in the Brac full-time.

DCS director Judith Seymour said that in her experience, following Hurricane Ivan, it took people in Grand Cayman several months after that storm to start seeking help for emotional issues.

‘It is probably going to be three to six months before we start seeing people paying attention to their trauma issues. They’re still paying attention to their basic needs,’ she said.

Following the EAP staff’s visit to the Brac on 5 February, Ms Miller said: ‘The response we are getting is that they are happy someone is going to be there who they can talk to. They want to make sure it is confidential and no one will know they are seeking help.

‘We are putting extreme measures in place to ensure that no one is going to be seen [talking to counsellors].’

She said now that people had spent time working on the practicalities of fixing up their homes, it was time for them to look after their emotional wellbeing.

The counsellors hope they can help families and children who remain nervous and anxious.

Counsellor Emma Roberts from the EAP, said: ‘Unfortunately we live in a hurricane area. It is going to come again. As a family, sit down and say ‘every time the sky darkens or we hear the wind, it does not mean it will happen again. We can just prepare for it as best we can’.

‘It is quite normal in the first few months after a hurricane to feel jumpy when something happens. It’s good to talk it out.’

Ms Roberts agreed it takes some time after the hurricane to recognise the need to discuss the trauma of the event.

‘Initially, people deal with the practical, with getting a blue tarpaulin on their house, drying out photographs and trying to get things back to normal.

‘It’s like when someone dies, you get caught up in the practical things. [But] it’s really important not to neglect the emotional side of things. That is when people get long-term problems,’ she said.

Convincing people that counselling does not equate to mental illness can be an uphill struggle in a community where a stigma is still attached to therapy and counselling services, but the EAP staff are hopeful that with guaranteed confidentially and a secret location, those in need of talking about their feelings will come forward.

‘It’s good to ventilate those feelings. Sometimes it’s good to talk to people you don’t know, but in a private and confidential way. You don’t have to be mad to see a counsellor… Seeing a counsellor doesn’t mean you’re mentally ill, it just means you could do with talking with someone,’ she said.

She said suppressing anxiety can lead to further issues.

‘If they don’t get it out, people develop physical problems or start drinking more and smoking more,’ she said. ‘People cope in different ways. Counselling is a more positive coping strategy.’

The counsellors met teachers of Cayman Brac High School, as well as other community educators and leaders during their visit to the Brac, the same day that Prince Edward made a trip to the Island to examine the damage wrought by Paloma.

The EAP has four counsellors. Initially one will visit the Brac every two weeks, but more counsellors can be sent if there is enough demand.

The service is free to civil servants and government employees, as well as staff of the Cayman Islands Credit Union and Cayman National Bank and their families, but Ms Roberts said no one in need would be turned away.

Anyone who wants to contact an EAP counsellor can call 949-9559 or email [email protected].

A counsellor from the Department of Counselling Services is also available at the Brac Haven Counselling Centre. He can be contacted on 948-2354.