Bahamian evacuees in South Florida yearn for mental health support after their traumatic experiences during Hurricane Dorian.
“We need psychological help,” said Bahamian evacuee, Merlyn Francis, who now lives in Miami Shores.
Francis decided to leave her hometown of Eight Mile Rock, Bahamas after the storm severely damaged her daughter’s high school. She described the flight to Miami by saying, “When it started to rain the parents, the children, everybody was frantic screaming feeling as if the water was coming to get them.”
Fellow evacuee, Sarah Gibbs, says she has avoided her social media accounts because she can’t handle seeing the stories. “I found myself reliving the worst of the storm every day,” she said.
Bahamian officials have acknowledged the potential mental health crisis, and sent counselors into the most affected communities. However, federal refugee support in the United States is only available to immigrants with temporary protective, refugee status or asylum status.
Most evacuees traveled to Florida with tourist visas, leaving much of this community ineligible for support. “These people were crying for days and weeks and they’re still crying,” said Francis.
Many mental health resources are available through nonprofit organizations such as International Rescue Committee, which has two locations in Fontainebleau. However, there haven’t been large-scale efforts to address the mental health of Bahamian evacuees in South Florida.
Evacuees feel like their traumatic experiences have been “overlooked” due to the lack of resources to address their mental health concerns.
Refugees suffer an increased risk for a variety of mental health issues including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, generalized anxiety, and adjustment disorder according to the Refugee Health Technical Assistance Center.
Suicide rates in refugee communities can also be “three times as high,” recent studies have shown.