U.S psychiatrists here to help Mahdia victims


By Lazeena Yearwood


A team of psychiatrists from the Northwell Health, a Staten Island University Hospital, are currently in Guyana to provide mental health support to family members and parents of the children who were impacted by the fire that rippled through the Mahdia Secondary school female dormitory, killing 20 children.

The team’s arrival earlier this week expands the existing relations between the Georgetown Public Hospital and the US hospital. It also adds to the mental health team comprising stakeholders from various government ministries and agencies who were mobilised to provide support.

During an interview with the News Room on Wednesday, Dr Mayer Bellehsen, one of the four foreign doctors, said it was evident that a team should come to Guyana to conduct first-hand evaluations of the survivors and the community at large given the severity of the situation.

“Our team came down to provide some additional support as well as understand what’s happening on the ground and work together with the administration and the government on thinking about a long-term response and guiding policy and development of resources to be able to provide support over time,” Dr. Bellehsen said.

From left to right: Dr Lucy Bickerton and Dr Serra Akyar, both are 4th Year Psychiatry residents attached at the Northwell Health hospital in the United States of America

The tragedy struck on May 21 at about 23:00 hrs and 20 children- 19 girls and a five-year-old boy- perished in the fire. The school houses girls from Mahdia, Campbelltown, Micobie, El Paso and several other villages in the North Pakaraimas in Region Eight (Potaro-Siparuni).

These are all close-knit villages and according to President Dr Irfaan Ali, the main priority for the government is to provide the support they need at this time.  He has said no effort will be spared during this “difficult” path.

Dr Bellehsen, a clinical psychologist, explained that individuals must have the necessary resources to cope in the aftermath of these kinds of stressors, hence, the general response to traumatic events is to identify the needs, find any practical support to meet those needs, and help people to feel a sense of safety.

“They [three other doctors] are on the ground in Mahdia, supporting the larger community gatherings, where information is being shared, typical ways of responses, reactions and coping is being offered, and also the avenues that are available for more individualised support.”

Some of the girls who were discharged from the hospital attended the National Candlelight Vigil (Photo: Office of the President)

Dr Bellehsen is slated to arrive in Mahdia on Thursday. He said the tragedy has deeply saddened many and he noted that Northwell extended its support to Guyana.

Already, a critically-ill girl, 13, who was receiving treatment at the city hospital was medically evacuated to the Northwell Health, Burns Centre for much-needed treatment.

Meanwhile, Dr. Triston Griffith, a psychiatrist attached at the GPHC Psychiatry Unit, reminded that the response to the fire by all sectors was immediate. Notably, he said the group of healthcare providers may be the longest-staying group.

Dr Triston Griffith, a psychiatrist at the Georgetown Public Hospital (Photo: News Room/ May 31, 2023)

“We’ve had teams to review and help manage the patients that were admitted, we’ve also dispatched teams to the hotels where the families are staying, and we’ve had sessions with the families.

“The initial response is to provide psychological first aid for persons because everybody responds differently to trauma and stress,” Dr Griffith said.

He explained that the team is still providing psychological first aid and identifying individuals who may be showing more exaggerated responses while making specific interventions and coping strategies.

Personnel from the Ministry of Health’s Mental Health Unit, the Georgetown Hospital’s Psychiatry and Psychology Unit and the Child Care and Protection Agency are also part of the team.

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