Play to reduce COVID-19-related mental health risk, urges psychologist

MONTEGO BAY, St James — Georgia Rose, a clinical psychologist who specialises in learning disorders, says the COVID-19 pandemic could pose mental health challenges for children and adults, and is encouraging all to take time out to have some fun.

“I really want to encourage parents and guardians to really participate in that opportunity for our children, teenagers, and even adults, to have that fun time, because the literature suggests strongly that play is integral in safeguarding our mental health,” said Rose, a lecturer at the Western Jamaica Campus of The University of the West Indies, Mona.

According to the clinical psychologist, this is why, “for a very long time, children did not present with mental disorders”.

“But now, because we have taken away play, we are seeing our children with more fragmented psychological states. So, I definitely want to encourage [people to take time to have fun],” she said.

According to Rose, play is an essential developmental tool for children, but it is currently under threat due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Play is defined as unstructured, fun activity without rules, boundaries and borders, which is engaged in for enjoyment and recreation.

In most cases, it does not take a lot of external resources or tools to have good fun.

“If many of us in Jamaica are honest and think back to when we were children, our play did not really involve a lot of contraptions and toys. Now is an opportunity to really teach our children, and demonstrate to our family members that we can have fun without having a lot of things present,” she said.

Rose was addressing a recent Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce and Industry virtual public forum, held in partnership with The University of the West Indies, Mona — Western Jamaica Campus.

In addition, Rose pointed out that while there has been much emphasis on safeguarding physical health, such as sanitising and the use of personal protective equipment, similar focus must also be placed on mental health at this time.

She pointed to studies which have suggested that during mass disasters, individuals are at an increased risk for suicide attempts, physiological trauma, abuse, domestic violence and the development or exacerbation of mental illness.

Arguing that humans are meant to be social beings, the clinical psychologist emphasised that separation from each other could result in a threat to one’s physiological well-being.

“We were never meant to exist in isolation. Our humanity is really entrenched in our day-to-day interactions. When we are locked away, or we have our social interactions reduced, it can threaten our psychological well-being,” she said.

As a means of maintaining that connection, people may turn to social media. However, the Rose is warning individuals to be careful while using it.

“Be careful that you are not consuming too much, and that you are not able to separate the facts from the fiction. Sometimes, the fiction propels the hysteria and makes us feel like the world is coming to an end. So you have to be careful of that,” she urged.

The learning disorders specialist said, however, that technology can be used for good, by being used to check up on others and to keep connected to those who bring one joy and peace.

Meanwhile, she is also encouraging individuals who are faced with challenges to seek help.

People may contact the Ministry of Health and Wellness Mental Health and Suicide Prevention helpline at 888-NEW-LIFE (639-5433), Jamaica Red Cross Disaster Mental Health Unit, or the Jamaica Psychological Association.

The joint virtual public forum was held under the theme: ‘COVID-19: Surviving the storm, exploring strategies for coping in a COVID-19 environment’.

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