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Sunday 16 June 2019
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Clinical therapist: Look for signs of trauma in earthquake aftermath

People gather at the Brian Lara Promenade - a muster point for several businesses in Port of Spain - after Tuesday’s eartquake.
People gather at the Brian Lara Promenade - a muster point for several businesses in Port of Spain - after Tuesday’s eartquake.

CLINICAL therapist and traumatologist Hanif Benjamin is urging citizens to look for instances of trauma in the aftermath of the earthquake. He said, over the next few days people would experience separation anxiety and could become hyper-vigilant, which he explained in TT parlance means “you jumpy because you are not sure what is going to happen, when its going to happen or if it is going to happen.”

He advised those who may become depressed, sad, withdrawn or scared, to talk it out or seek counselling and work out an escape or survival plan.

Benjamin said he witnessed the re-engineered trauma yesterday morning, while having breakfast at the Grand Bazaar food court when the country experienced an aftershock around 9.28 am.

“People on the floor started to scream and run wild. They did not know whether to run outside or stay in the building. One girl was screaming, saying, ‘I tell you it is going to happen again. We are going to dead. We are going to dead.”

Benjamin said unfortunately people in authority always look at the physical rebuilding but hardly look at the mental health and the psychological trauma people are going through. He said this near disaster must also be used as a preparedness test to examine if what was supposed to be done was done, and what changes need to be made.

In an interview with Newsday yesterday, Benjamin said all categories of people from infants, to adolescent, adults, elderly, infirmed or incapacitated, and those with physical disabilities – especially those who are hearing or visually impaired, are all at risk.

“It was indeed a traumatic incident,” he said of the 6.9 magnitude earthquake which shattered people’s peace of mind and some buildings and infrastructure.

“We are not accustomed to natural disasters, especially the younger generation. It was a confusing time. In spite of the ODPM’s task to get us ready for a disaster, people were still very much unprepared – and in that level of unpreparedness – trauma and chaos continued to reign.

He said he was bombarded by calls all night as people were afraid to go back to sleep or go to their homes because they associate natural disasters with death and dying.

Benjamin who is also the chairman of the Children’s Authority, said children could be easily ignored by adults who are more concerned about infrastructural damage, but they need time to process.

“So, we need to hear their stories, from their perspective, what they felt, what was going through their minds.”

He said the older children could also feel worried and withdrawn.”

Benjamin said while some adults feel they have to be “strong and macho”, one must also be cognisant of signs of change in emotion and behaviour and also in their work pattern.

“For instance, if you work in a high-rise building and experienced the earthquake at work on Tuesday, you may now come up with excuses why you don’t want to go to work.”

He advised employers in high-rise buildings to meet with employees on a ground floor and allow them to verbalise how they feel before going back up.

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