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Official urges J’cans to make mental health a priority


MORE females have been utilising helplines set up by the Ministry of Health and Wellness as a means to promote mental health amid the unprecedented and devastating novel coronavirus pandemic.

To commemorate World Health Day yesterday, under the theme: ‘Together for a fairer, healthier world’, the Mental Health Department at the ministry urged more Jamaicans to use the resources that are being provided by the ministry.

“If we go by the calls we get into our helpline, it’s mainly the females we find who are really reaching out for help. The males are internalising, but most of the females are expressing that they have a need and are calling the helpline for assistance,” Dr Kevin Goulbourne, director of mental health and substance abuse services at the ministry told the Jamaica Observer.

“When persons are isolated or in quarantine, even though persons can reach them by phone, there’s no physical contact so you find that they’re very lonely and very fearful not knowing what will be the outcome of their condition. So, there is a lot of mixed feelings, anxiety, depression, fearfulness, loneliness, even to the point of suicide,” Goulbourne added.

A murder-suicide in St Thomas on Good Friday sent shock waves across the country. The police reported that Roger Johnson stabbed his ex-girlfriend, 47-year-old Lorraine Hutchinson, to death about 9:30 am. He committed suicide.

The novel coronavirus has killed over two million people worldwide, and there are currently more than 132 million reported infections. Locally, there have been 41, 328 cases and 622 deaths. Dr Goulbourne said many Jamaicans are struggling mentally at this time because of the pandemic.

“We’ve seen a lot of persons having difficulty understanding how to manage in this time, because it [pandemic] has impacted on their livelihood, education pursuits, their activities and it has impacted negatively on their own comfort level as to what this pandemic might mean for them. Whether they may catch the disease or they may pass on the disease to others, of course, with the fact that it may lead to persons dying.”

During the initial stages of the pandemic, the health ministry implored people to constantly engage the elderly population while observing social distancing, even though physical distance is emphasised, Goulbourne added, further stating that social connectedness among elders should not be abandoned.

“We’re still doing that and we’re trying to make sure that especially the older persons are not neglected, because I find that older persons are told not to go out, but to stay home. If younger persons don’t reach out to them by ensuring that they keep in touch with them, help them with things around the house, help them to become even more comfortable with using electronics like Zoom meetings and things that have become the norm in terms of communication,” he advised.

He said there are various resources and avenues Jamaicans can explore to make their mental health a priority.

“Online, we have websites where persons can actually access information about COVID-19 and how to cope. We have a website where persons can actually come online and actually have discussions where they can express their fears, their concerns, their worries, and they’re responded to online,” he said.

There is also a 24-hour, seven days per week mental health helpline.

“Persons can call at any time of the day and they will have a psychologist speaking to them who can help them with fears, concerns, worries they have, and help them to feel more supported, and where necessary, can even get further assistance for them, if they need, much more than a telephone call. They can be referred to where they can get assistance, care packages, further psychological assessment and counselling.”

He said, generally, the feedback has been positive.

“So far, from what we’ve gotten, persons have been very relieved… persons who have been suicidal who have found great relief in the fact that they have been able to call and get someone to speak to them in the dead of night. We are also trying to roll out what we call reach out rangers, which are persons who are trained and called psychological first aid, where they can actually go into the communities or call community members, see how they’re dealing with the pandemic and where possible, provide support for them.”

Added Goulbourne: “Where that support is not sufficient, then they can link them up with other resources in the community; the mental health team, social worker, Red Cross. Sometimes the helpline will find that there are persons calling repeatedly, where they get initial assistance and because the service is there all the time, they may call back several times afterwards. Some persons are very frequent callers, some persons are one-off callers.”

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