While last week’s earthquake left many people shaken, both physically and emotionally, mental health professionals warn that some may have been more affected than others.

Dr. Catherine Day from Aspire Therapeutic Services in Grand Cayman said a number of patients have brought up the 7.7 magnitude earthquake as a topic of discussion in their sessions.

“Since we specialise in working with people who have already been traumatised, what we are seeing is that an event like this can reactivate any unprocessed or unresolved trauma from the past,” Day said.

Day specialises in neurodiversity and works closely with young people and adults who have additional needs, like intellectual disabilities and neurodevelopmental difficulties, which can range from autism and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder to limitations in intellectual functioning, such as reasoning, learning, problem solving and adaptive behaviour.

“Post-trauma symptoms in people with intellectual disabilities/neurodevelopmental conditions are under-recognised, and yet, people with ID/ND are more vulnerable to, and therefore more at risk of, experiencing trauma than the rest of the population,” Day said.

She explained that people with intellectual disabilities/neurodevelopmental conditions take longer to process their thoughts and feelings about trauma.

“They may have more difficulty communicating what they are feeling. This does not mean they are not having the same normal reactions as other people, but they may need more support to recover,” she said.

Day said that it is helpful to use stories, TV, movies and other visual aids to help talk through what has happened, to help people cope with being frightened or distressed. She said that it is important to present information differently to them to assist with their needs. “People with intellectual disabilities/neurodevelopmental conditions may be more likely to show a response through a change in mood or behaviour rather than by talking about it,” Day said. “This can be evident in signs such as an increase in anxiety symptoms, or regressive behaviours in children or people with ID/ND.”

Dympna Carten, a community psychiatric nurse with the Cayman Islands Health Services Authority, said natural disasters may result in psychological distress in the population, and reactions can vary from very mild or transient to more intense or long-lasting trauma.

“For the majority of individuals, these reactions resolve over time and most people regain their sense of equilibrium, returning to functioning and productive community members,”

Carten said. “However, a small number of persons exposed to the disaster are likely to experience sustained, more intense reactions.”

She said some of these affected individuals previously may haved experienced mental health problems.

“Anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorders and depressive illness are among the more common problems that may occur in the aftermath of a disaster,” Carten said. “Children, adults and older persons can all be impacted, and substance abuse problems can also occur in the post-disaster period.”

She stressed that maintaining compliance with any previously prescribed medication is extremely important.

“When a mental illness is suspected, the individual should seek a professional medical opinion, either through an appointment with their general practitioner or calling the behavioural health department at the Cayman Islands Hospital,” Carten said. “If out of hours and the individual is acutely distressed, they should attend the [Accident and Emergency] Department at the Cayman Islands Hospital and take any suicidal talk or behaviour seriously.”

The Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Health Services outpatient section at the Cayman Islands Hospital can be contacted at 244-2650.