A double disaster: Supporting the mental health of Bahamians recovering from Hurricane Dorian while coping with the COVID-19 pandemic
When Hurricane Dorian struck the Abaco Islands in September 2019, it became the strongest hurricane in modern records to make landfall in the Bahamas. The deadly storm disrupted all the essential community services, including water, electricity and medicine. Heart to Heart International’s (HHI) Disaster Response Team responded immediately, providing medical and mental health support to the people of Abaco islands.
As the people of the Bahamas were working to recover from the devastation of Hurricane Dorian, the global pandemic of COVID-19 hit – leading to a double disaster for residents of the island nation. The trauma, stress and anxiety caused by COVID-19 were piled on top of the lingering effects of Hurricane Dorian to take a heavy toll on the mental health of the islands’ residents.
Though the pandemic forced HHI to suspend in-person work in the Bahamas in March, HHI was able to continue helping the island through work with partner organizations. HHI began partnering with Bahamas Psychological Association (BPA) to support ongoing mental health outreach to people in need.
The newest collaboration between the two organizations is the Mental Health & Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) Project: Service Provision to Hurricane Dorian Survivors in a COVID-19 Era. This project is designed to provide mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) services to people directly affected by Hurricane Dorian as they navigate the challenges of an active hurricane season and the COVID-19 pandemic. It will address the impact of repeated trauma and increased anxiety associated with unprecedented uncertainty due to multiple stressors.
Some of the goals of the project include:
- developing and distributing materials to promote coping strategies,
- extending operating hours for mental health helplines,
- re-activating two Creole-speaking helplines,
- increase access to tele-mental health services to high-risk populations,
- designating and training MHPSS Coordinators on multiple islands to improve access to and awareness of mental health support and services.
As COVID-19 cases continue to climb around the world, Heart to Heart International believes it is critical to support efforts to care for the mental health of the Bahamian people.
“We are so excited to be able to partner with the BPA and play a small role in the organization’s extraordinary work,” said Wes Comfort, Caribbean Response and Recovery Lead, Heart to Heart International. “Following Dorian in 2019 and into the current pandemic, mental health services have never been more important.”