A TRAUMA RESPONSE TEAM: DO WE HAVE SOME ?
(ConsultANT, Mr. Kwaku Brobbey)
Last week, I mentioned that I wanted to look into Trauma Response Teams (TRT).
Recap : A Trauma Response Team is a body that responds to the emotional trauma caused by violent incidents .
And this week, I was pleasantly surprised by what I uncovered. But before we dig into it, let's cover the basics (mined from this article¹).
What do we mean by Trauma?
We say someone has undergone a traumatic event when they have been exposed to the threat of death, serious injury or sexual violence, both directly and as a witness. This can lead to PTSD.
What is PTSD ?
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is the clinical definition of a disorder associated with trauma and it is recognized by these four symptoms .
- Re-experience - You constantly 'see' the thing you went through, you have dreams and flashbacks, and you are triggered when exposed to cues.
- Hyperarousal - You find yourself getting angry all the time and participating in self-destructive behavior. You are jumpy and find it difficult to sleep and or focus.
- Avoidance - You don't want to think about what happened to you and you find yourself actively trying to avoid and forget it.
- Negative thinking and mood - You experience gaps in your memory, you start blaming yourself for what happened, you lose interest in the future and you feel detached from everything and everyone around you.
Kindly Note* Undergoing a traumatic event does not automatically mean you will suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. According to this same article, 'only a very small proportion of people exposed to even the most distressing of traumatic events go on to develop PTSD.'
To give you a sense of what a ‘very small proportion of people’ means, the article goes on to reference a study ² that found that of 211 survivors of trauma,
- 141 experienced no symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress,
- 37 developed PTSD
- And the remaining 33 developed an anxiety and/ or depression response .
That’s 37 people out of 211 (17.5%) developing PTSD.
With a Trauma Response Team available, I assumed that this number and that of those who developed an anxiety and/ or depression response, would go down.
Now I wanted to know… Does Ghana have A TEAM?
To answer my question, I went on the website of the Mental Health Authority of Ghana, saw a phone number and dialed. It went through the first time but no one picked up. A few minutes later, my call was returned. It was Mr. Kwaku Brobbey, the Head of Communications. So, I went straight to my reason for calling, “Hello, my name is Yaba and I'd like to know if Ghana has a body of Mental Health professionals that make themselves available in the instance of National Disaster?"
Then I waited for the, “No.”
But it never came.
"Yes, we do" he said.
Ghana has a Trauma Response Team (TRT), organized by the Ghana Mental Health Authority. It is called the Emergency Response Team (ERT) and it brings together volunteers within the mental health fraternity.
Pick your jaw off the floor. Clap. Then continue reading.
It is made up of psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, psychiatric nurses, psychotherapists, social welfare staff and other supporting professionals, pooled from both the public and the private sector, who all volunteer their time, at no fee, to respond when disaster strikes.
Although he was unable to tell me when exactly the group was formed , he confirmed that the ERT had been active for the fire at Nkrumah Circle in 2015, the Trade Fair Gas explosion and more recently, after the explosion at Atomic Junction .
A day after the Atomic Junction blast, the team set up a clinic at the counseling unit of the University of Ghana campus and the hostels that were close to the explosion sites. This was later complimented by clinics on the Presec campus (to cater for students) and then the Legon Botanical Gardens. At the Legon Botanical Gardens, the team was divided into two, with the second team pitching camp at the Atomic Trotro station. These free mobile clinics stayed functional from the 11th of October until the 21st. There, volunteering professionals sat and talked with individuals who needed to process what they’d been through. Were the situation was dire, the team referred these walk-ins for further treatment.
To educate the public about their presence, the ERT made up of professionals from the University of Ghana, the Psychology Association of Ghana, the Pantang Hospital and the Mental Health Authority partnered with the Information Services Department and radio announcements were circulated, a banner was set up at the station and people went around with flyers explaining what help the clinics were offering to the local public. .
I asked Mr. Brobbey what the response was like, " Did people come for the help that was being offered?" He mentioned that although he didn’t currently have tallied figures from all the operating clinics, before the publicity of their services, he was at Presec and around 30 people passed through to seek help.
30 is not a big number. So I asked the obvious question ...
What is one of the major challenges this team of volunteers face?
Mr. Brobbey's response was media awareness. Although they had set up the clinics, the resources they had to advertise their presence were limited. If more people knew about them, what exactly it is they do, it will be easier to help those in need whenever there is a national disaster.
" If media houses offered the TRT some free airtime would it be helpful?" I asked.
His response, “Yes!”
So… What Can you Do to help?
If you are a Professional in Mental Health ( public or private), contact Mr. Brobbey on this number, +233 206814666 and offer to be put on the team.
If you work in the media (radio, television, newspaper, internet etc) contact Mr. Brobbey on this number +233 206814666 and offer to help the team.
If you are neither, share this story every which way you can so it can reach those that might fall into one of the categories stated above. That's how you contribute to helping the team.
There are Ghanaians out here trying.
Let us help them win.
P.s. There will be an official report from the ERT. When it becomes available, I will make sure to share it here.