Flood victims in Trinidad struggling to recover

Residents of Lower Mafeking in Mayaro use a pirogue to rescue people who were stranded in their homes last month.

(Trinidad Guardian) Res­i­dents af­fect­ed by the dev­as­tat­ing floods a month ago are strug­gling to re­build their lives and men­tal health ex­perts are ap­peal­ing to the au­thor­i­ties to en­sure there are mech­a­nisms to pro­vide emo­tion­al and psy­cho­log­i­cal sup­port.

Sec­re­tary of the Psy­chi­a­trists As­so­ci­a­tion of T&T Dr Var­ma Deyals­ingh said while re­place­ment of phys­i­cal as­sets is an in­te­gral part of the re­build­ing process, Post-Trau­mat­ic Stress Dis­or­der (PTSD) is a very re­al pos­si­bil­i­ty for flood vic­tims.

PTSD is a men­tal health con­di­tion that can de­vel­op in peo­ple af­ter they ex­pe­ri­ence or wit­ness a life-threat­en­ing event such as com­bat, a nat­ur­al dis­as­ter, car ac­ci­dent, or sex­u­al as­sault. Symp­toms in­clude flash­backs, night­mares and se­vere anx­i­ety, as well as un­con­trol­lable thoughts about the event.

Deyals­ingh said some peo­ple may have de­vel­oped a tol­er­ance for flood­ing over time, as it may be some­thing they are ac­cus­tomed to every time it rains, so the lev­el of an­tic­i­pa­tion and ex­pec­ta­tion was nor­mal.

How­ev­er, the sud­den and in­tense flood­ing would have struck every­one hard, sur­pris­ing peo­ple and leav­ing them dis­tressed.

“It would have af­fect­ed peo­ple who felt trapped and felt as though they were go­ing to drown and die,” he said.

Re­fer­ring to ac­counts by per­sons who es­caped by climb­ing on­to their roofs, Deyals­ingh added: “Ob­vi­ous­ly the stress will be there.”

He ex­plained that this could lead to af­fect­ed peo­ple al­so de­vel­op­ing acute stress dis­or­der, which is char­ac­terised by se­vere anx­i­ety, dis­so­ci­a­tion and oth­er symp­toms that de­vel­op with­in a month af­ter ex­po­sure to an ex­treme trau­mat­ic stres­sor.

“Af­fect­ed per­sons may be un­able to func­tion as nor­mal on a dai­ly ba­sis while bat­tling feel­ings of fear, hope­less­ness and anx­i­ety.

“It may lead to a lev­el of dys­func­tion as they may not be able to go about their dai­ly life and we need to at least be there for them, to give them that ther­a­py,” he said.

That was the ex­pe­ri­ence of Deb­bie Gob­in* who said she felt lost and alone and be­came anx­ious and scared every time there was a storm cloud over­head.

A teacher, Gob­in was un­able to func­tion nor­mal­ly when rain be­gan falling days af­ter the dev­as­tat­ing floods.

“I feel stressed men­tal­ly and phys­i­cal­ly but I am mov­ing along. I am not sit­ting and wait­ing, I am do­ing all I can to put my­self in a sta­ble frame of mind,” she said.

Gob­in has lived in St He­le­na for 12 years and she re­called an in­ci­dent about three days af­ter heav­ing rains on Oc­to­ber 19 when she found her­self “sit­ting in work, wor­ried that the wa­ter could come up again.”

She said: “We can­not go through an­oth­er one like this. I even thought we should move out be­cause it was crazy.”

Al­though she and her fam­i­ly are ac­cus­tomed to mi­nor floods every time it rains, Gob­in said: “This time, it was much more than some­thing we could have dealt with. We watched every­thing we built washed away in a few sec­onds.”

Her biggest wor­ry now is her ail­ing moth­er-in-law who stays at home alone when Gob­in and her hus­band go to work. The el­der­ly woman suf­fered a seizure days af­ter the floods.

“She couldn’t take it any­more and just col­lapsed,” Gob­in said.

Deyals­ingh rec­om­mends psy­cho­log­i­cal first-aid for the thou­sands af­fect­ed by the floods.

“We have to let them talk about their ex­pe­ri­ence and what is go­ing on,” he said.

He is al­so call­ing for a long-term plan in place to as­sist them and said there is an ur­gent need for the com­ple­ment of so­cial work­ers to be in­creased, as ask­ing per­sons to re­turn to homes that were flood­ed is re-trau­ma­tis­ing.

“Such per­sons need help to ad­just as they face the prospect of start­ing over. In some cas­es, re­tired peo­ple might be forced to re-en­ter the job mar­ket to earn mon­ey to out­fit their homes.

El Car­men res­i­dent Melis­sa Ram* said she felt over­whelmed and un­able to cope as her fam­i­ly scraped mud and slush from the walls of their home.

The 40-year-old moth­er of two said her four-year-old daugh­ter was up­set af­ter her grand­moth­er fell and se­ri­ous­ly in­jured her­self dur­ing the post-flood clean up.

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