Mental Health Matters: Breaking a culture of silence on Tinian (Part 3)
"A lot of the students experience trauma and even just hearing like the strong winds would trigger a reaction in them, but they wouldn't even know, a lot of them didn't understand why," said Mary H. Brazzle, a behavioral health specialist on Tinian.
She added, "So that's why we provide groups to the students who might have experienced trauma from that, not just from the typhoon, but also the pandemic. And we work with them to understand how their thoughts and feelings relate to their reactions and how to cope with that."
Two mental health specialists from the Public School System on Saipan visit Tinian every two weeks for a day to speak with students learning how to heal from the mental toll of recent typhoons and COVID-19.
There’s no licensed therapist living on island, but some students are able to get the help they need through telehealth. Campus can sometimes be their only reprieve.
Kiara Santos, a senior at TInian Jr./Sr. High School, told KUAM, "A lot of us lost either lost our homes or lost a lot of things with that typhoon and it affected us a lot but we kept it to ourselves during that time, kind of just like learning how to deal with it on our own."
She added, "And then once we came back to school, it felt like a bit of normalcy. So when the mental health program started reaching out about how the typhoon affected us as students, I felt appreciative of it because it helped us actually, you know, take a moment to sit back and process what happened."
The mental health department provides group counseling -- targeting students who might share similar experiences off-campus.
Frank Borja, Tinian's PSS community project manager, said, "The trauma from the typhoon, the trauma and anxiety-related issues from the pandemic really was just, you know, an accumulation of prior trauma that they've already grown up with. You know, we in addition to just Yutu, we had Soudelor as well. And then we also, you know, financial concerns at the home that were some of the things that we saw the students reveal that was heavy on them."
Brazzle added, "There's also the stigma. You know, a lot of the students have experienced where a lot of students do want to receive services, but they kind of get some pushback from their parents because they feel like only people that are mentally ill or that are in institutes need mental health services."
The program wants to build mental health literacy and break away from a culture of silence.
Borja said, "Having our students and even our school staff have regular and immediate access to mental health care. I think for me, that's what I would like to see someone housed on the island specifically dealing with the caseload and the community."