Whether it’s financial worries, bereavement or lingering trauma from Hurricane Dorian and the pandemic, the population’s mental health didn’t magically restore itself when the New Year rang in, says one of the country’s top clinical psychologist, Dr Valerie Knowles.
“It is a new year. There are exciting calls to forget the pain of the past, cut off toxic relationships, move forward and create a clean slate from which to begin. At the stroke of midnight on December 31, 2022,
the murder rate and national traffic fatality toll were reset and returned to zero, but mental health doesn’t work that way. For many persons, the pain of everyday living continues. For some, the year is hardly ever ‘new’ and there is no automatic return to a clean slate.”
Dr Knowles is the coordinator of the Bahamas Psychological Association’s Post Dorian-Covid Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Relief Activities.
She’s the author of Bahamian Children Cry and has over 25 years of experience working with children, adolescents and their families.
“We have to help people through their trauma. We must help them manage their ‘back of the mind’ stress.”
That is what she calls the stress or worry that is pushed out of one’s immediate consciousness to allow the individual to focus on the issues at hand. The stress is not gone. The person had decided not to dwell on it.
As Dr Knowles sees it, this type of stress is more conscious than subconscious, as such, the individual exerts more cognitive control over it, meaning he or she has the ability to move it in, or out of their conscious attention.
“The issues haven’t been resolved, just pushed to the back of the mind so that one can keep moving forward,” she explained.
Dr Knowles cautioned policy makers, administrators, supervisors, teachers, preachers, community helpers and advocates to remember that ‘back of the mind’ stress related to the impact of Dorian and Covid-19 remains a challenge for many.
“Household finances are still fragile. Loved ones are still being mourned. Graduations were lost, promotions delayed, higher education deferred. Some learning remains lost, and some important relationships remain strained,” she noted.
“Some individuals still have flashbacks of floating in raging waters, in the dark of night as loved ones were washed away in an uncaring ocean. Others, vividly recall the moment their roof blew off during Dorian. Some persons can remember the shock of finding themselves standing in line for food, in the dark of morning, huddled among persons with whom they would not normally congregate.”
Essentially, the psychologist asserts that the nation’s mental wellness has not yet been fully restored which has implications for all sectors of society.
In the classrooms
“Students whose sense of mental wellness have not fully returned are vulnerable to exhibiting behaviour management challenges. Their parent(s) may still be coping with pandemic related unemployment, multiple mouths to feed and mounting bills. Add to that, school stress, perhaps threats of peer violence, and a high-crime neighbourhood. Youths in this scenario may not react well to high pressured, overnight, efforts to hurry up and close the pandemic generated learning gaps. Pressure will only add to the frustration.”
The psychologist stressed that pandemic-related learning loss recovery should not be rushed to ease stakeholders’ anxiety.
In the workplace
“Some employers at the back of their minds, may be remembering their sense of increased vulnerability as they watched their resources and profits dwindle during the pandemic. They may be anxious to recover profits lost and may be tempted to price gouge, overwork their employees, and become less humane in their management of their human resources,” said Dr Knowles.
On the flip side, she noted employees with heightened ‘back of the mind’ stress of their own could find themselves predisposed to retaliating to employer pressure with unexpected, uncharacteristic behaviour.
“The work environment can quickly become and remain volatile and tense. ‘Back of the mind’ stress of the employer and the employees should be considered by organizational directors.”
There are inherent dangers to shelving unresolved mental anguish.
“Failing to be aware of the impact of ‘back of the mind’ stress may result in unexpected interpersonal acts of violence,” according to the psychologist.
For instance, a high level of ‘back of the mind’ stress could result in increasing levels of psychic numbness or coldness, particularly when it’s combined with saturated exposure to bad news via the media.
Media managers are also reminded that over exposure to sensationalised, negative activity could also impact the national psyche and the national sense of wellness.
“This may result in diminished levels of empathy and mercy for victims, and perpetrators of any kind. There is a reluctance to even talk about acts of restorative justice. Strike one and you’re out. Offend me and you die. Fewer persons are emotionally prepared to tolerate imperfection in anybody,” Dr Knowles theorized.
“The need to continually pump positive and empowering psychological energy and images into the community through the cultural and spiritual organizations will work to counteract the need to push things to the back of the mind.”
She urged those in need of mental help to call any of the Bahamas Psychological Services’ seven hotlines. Toll Free: (All) 816-3799; (Men) 821-8123; (Creole) 454-2993; (Abaco) 822-4211.