Gov't seeks volunteers as it prepares for mental health project roll-out

Gov't seeks volunteers as it prepares for mental health project roll-out

Senior staff reporter

Saturday, October 10, 2020

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MINISTER of Health and Wellness Dr Christopher Tufton says acute mental health conditions are on the increase in Jamaica as a result of the strain of COVID-19 on the population, and has issued an appeal for volunteers to help administer the $20-million mental health response initiative which the ministry is rolling out.

Speaking Thursday evening at the ministry's weekly COVID Conversations forum, Dr Tufton said the worsening of mental health conditions has been observed in those already afflicted with a range of conditions such as acute psychosis and adjustment disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“What I have seen and confirmed by the technical team is that the number of cases where we have had to intervene have gone up, the number of calls to the 888 N-E-W-L-I-F-E line has gone a number of sources have demonstrated that a range of mental health issues have become more dominant during the period,” he said. He added that the development is widespread globally, prompting the World Health Organzation and the Pan American Health Organization to urge countries to focus on the mental health aspect of the pandemic.

He pointed out, too, that while the psychological impact of the virus affects persons of all ages, those in the older age groups and the very young are suffering the most.

According to a survey carried out involving 228 people aged 65 and older by public health and aging expert, Professor Denise Eldemire Shearer, 89 per cent of those sampled are leaving home less than before; 22 per cent reported that they have cancelled health care appointments; only 20 per cent have been receiving in-person visits with loved ones; while 98 per cent say they mainly stay in touch by phone. Half of those surveyed reported church as their source of support, a social space which has also been affected by restrictions imposed to try to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Seventy-four per cent of the respondents were women.

“All of these critical support systems are now been restricted under the protocols for COVID-19,” Dr Tufton pointed out, noting that while senior citizens are clearly taking the pandemic seriously, a fifth of those surveryed said they find the protocols challenging and impossible to continue for a prolonged period, while 34 per cent reported loneliness and feeling isolated.

Dr Tufton said that up to October 4, “We have seen a number of people who have demonstrated that their mental state has been impacted by the COVID virus.” He said that, for example, 514 of the cases were persons between the ages of 60 and 69, of which 18 have died; 449 were were aged 70 and older, 66 of whom have died; in comparison to 229 cases among persons aged 10 to 30 years, of which only four have died.

“So the data is suggesting that while young persons are being affected by COVID, the older persons who are in the minority have more severe consequences – and that does weigh heavily on the minds of those who are in their senior years,” he said.

The health minister said that under the response programme mental health volunteers will be trained to help create a sense of belonging and provide some level of comfort to those who are suffering because of the isolation associated with the restrictions. “The programme will focus on increasing the skills set of our health care workers and community volunteers, so our psychological first aid will be boosted,” he said.Additionally, he advised that a mass media campaign is to be launched to promote the prevention of mental illness.

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