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Slow mental recovery for devastated Dominicans

Published: 
Wednesday, October 11, 2017
T&T trauma team find deep sense of loss
Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerritt with members of the T&T trauma specialist team at a meeting yesterday.

The leader of the T&T trauma specialist team in Dominica Wendell de Leon says his team has encountered a deep sense of “hopelessness,” “trauma,” “despair” and “loss” in the past two weeks interacting with the people of Dominica devastated by Hurricane Maria.

Speaking at a news conference yesterday, De Leon said many people who lost loved ones are finding it difficult to come to terms with the loss.

“A lot of people lost children, brothers, sisters loved ones but there are 30 plus people still missing across the island,” he said. A number of children were among those killed when Hurricane Maria struck on September 18.

Dominicans, he said, are dealing with a gamut of emotions from loss of loved ones, to property loss, to loss of heirlooms, pictures albums and with many of them in shelters they feel hopeless and a sense of despair.

Some he said had chosen a coping mechanism of turning to “alcohol and drugs,” and some are even participating in “looting because at night they have nothing to do.”

He lamented that “relationships have taken a hit,” families are torn apart because they are now in shelters and they have no money or jobs.

And while countries including T&T have opened their doors to Dominicans, he said, migration has its own problems. “When people migrate, invariably it is the wife who leaves with children, the husband stays here, but what happens with him? He is now experiencing another trauma, the loss of house, property and now family. Those are real issues we not only need to treat with.”

Many people, he said, had lost homes and property which they took years to build, they also lost personal heirlooms, pictures and albums “things they will never recover, so it is mentally difficult to deal with.”

De Leon said he had “mentioned” to Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerritt about the rush to return to normalcy. “I know we want to go back to a sense of normalcy and have the schools reopened,” but he said “we must be mindful that the schools are the shelters where people were placed, and the minute you remove them you need somewhere to put them. Because if you displace them a second time, you will affect their mental psyche severely.”

The return to normalcy, he said, must be handled with “a sense of delicacy and sensitivity.”

He also urged Dominicans assisting in the distribution of relief supplies to “preserve the dignity of those they are giving relief to, don’t shout “come and get your relief,” he said, urging them to "treat them as humans and with dignity.”

De Leon said even the burial ritual has changed because of the hurricane. Many parts of the island remain without electricity and as a result, he said “there is no morgue to keep bodies to wait on a pastor or priest because decomposition is setting in earlier. This is traumatic for those who lost loved ones.”

De Leon made passing reference to the challenges his team had in getting to Dominica, having received no funding from the T&T Ministry of Foreign Affairs. But since their arrival on the island working alongside Dominican trauma team led by Dr Griffin Bejamin, consultant psychiatrist on the island, he said, they had done eighteen Critical Incidence Debriefing (CID), they interacted with 165 individuals in communities, “touched over 15 families, and dealt with 11 children’s groups.”