Hurricane Dorian was the strongest hurricane to touch land in The Bahamas, leaving destruction in its wake. While recovering from Hurricane Dorian, the COVID-19 pandemic struck, placing mental health in The Bahamas in a state its people have never seen before.
Hurricane Dorian’s Impact on Mental Health
Hurricane Dorian left scars not only on the affected communities but also on their mental health. Pastor Robert Lockhart, a local Bahamian pastor, offered up his church as a place for people to express their emotions. Only a few people spoke, but the 200 other people in the audience clapped and cried along with the speakers. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reported that natural disasters usually leave people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), causing increased anxiety, nightmares or depression-like symptoms.
For example, Eulese Cooper, a fisherwoman living in The Bahamas, struggled to deal with her loss. After experiencing a concussion during the storm, she received an advisory to rest. However, she could not sleep because nightmares about the disaster plagued her. Although these mental health issues are justified, people in The Bahamas still worry about public opinion. According to Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands, the increasing suicide rate stems from Bahamians ignoring mental health issues. Dr. Sands states local people often see those that struggle with mental illness as weak and not connected to God.
Discrimination and poverty only worsen issues of mental health in The Bahamas. Such factors are speeding up the progression of this epidemic. Poverty and shaming are the leading causes of depression in the country, and this shaming deters people from seeking help for fear of others calling them “crazy.” Instead of seeing those struggling with mental illness as victims, others tend to see them as violent individuals that are a risk to the community. Projections determined that the Caribbean would have a more than 50% increase in people with mental disorders by 2020, and reports estimated that 80% of these people would not have access to mental healthcare.
Improving the Bahamian People’s Mental State
Luckily, some organizations have recognized the situation in The Bahamas and are attempting to provide aid. Heart to Heart International (HHI) has been doing work on the ground following Hurricane Dorian’s aftermath in providing mental health and medical professionals for Bahamians. HHI has also partnered with the Bahamas Psychological Association (BPA) on a project to provide psychological and mental health services to Hurricane Dorian survivors during the pandemic. The project seeks to alleviate the trauma and anxiety caused by these unexpected events.
The project’s objectives are:
- Creating and teaching coping mechanisms to help those struggling.
- Making mental health hotlines more available by expanding hours of operation.
- Reopening two specialized Creole hotlines.
- Improving availability for over the phone mental health services for at-risk populations in areas with higher poverty rates or areas that Hurricane Dorian heavily affected.
- Training and establishing mental health coordinators on more islands to raise awareness about the mental health services available.
It is apparent that mental health is an important issue, but in light of Hurricane Dorian and the COVID-19 pandemic, the Bahamian people are obtaining more information about mental health. Once the country adopts new strategies to address mental health, its people will begin to recover from the mental strain they have endured.
– Solomon Simpson