Tufton: Focus on mental health critical to pandemic response

Tufton: Focus on mental health critical to pandemic response

Senior staff reporter

Sunday, September 27, 2020

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Minister of Health and Wellness Dr Christopher Tufton has said that a focus on mental health will form a critical part of the anti-COVID-19 response, as apart from the physical health implications of the virus, the mental trauma is alarming.

“Our young people, students would have been placed at a disadvantage far worse than the mere absence of a classroom setting. In some instances, the virtual support provides some stop gap approach even though I don't think it is sufficient,” Dr Tufton said. “It is the mental trauma that our young people have had to go through and are going through because of their restrictions on movement, and the fact that what has become or what would normally be a part of growing up – exposure to their friends, playtime, exercise, just learning by doing has been significantly shrunk and restricted.”

Dr Tufton, in a recent interview with the Jamaica Observer, said this confinement leads to loneliness and evidence coming out of the Ministry of Health and Wellness, plus global evidence suggest the scars of loneliness from a mental and psychological perspective, is likely to live on and have influence on the younger cohort.

He said: “It means that we have to find a way to respond. I recently, last week, met with our mental health unit in the ministry. While we do have some support systems in place, we're going to ramp up those support systems to provide some relief for counselling and for support. We certainly would want to appeal to parents and guardians to recognise the impact that restrictions based on COVID-19 has had on that psychological state of our young people.”

Meanwhile, a study by the Inter-American Development Bank titled 'Economic Costs of Pre-primary Programme Reductions due to COVID-19 Pandemic' shows that being home for extended periods because of the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic will disrupt the human development of children and have detrimental effects on their earning ability, health and productivity over their lifetime.

But, Dr Tufton told the Sunday Observer that while the Government takes into consideration the findings of these studies, the likelihood of continuing with distance learning for a little while longer is real.

“It's not unique to us, it is a situation that is a global challenge. What it means is that in public health, we are going to have to respond by firstly assessing and understanding from the impact of this level of restrictions and intervening in a way that will disrupt the concentrated sort of trauma that is being experienced by persons or children who are experiencing this now,” Dr Tufton said.

This intervention, he said, will require empowerment of communities and homes to find ways to occupy their time in a manner that is therapeutic, rather than depressing.

“There are many ways to do that. The ministry moved the Jamaica Moves session to television to allow people to work out in their home and that is interactive. The same could apply for promoting certain types of activities in the home, making counselling available remotely. So we do have a mental health hotline for things that people can call if they need counselling. [In addition] providing sessions or encouraging sessions that are not as crowded based on the restriction, but still allows for some form of interaction and integrating even in the virtual classroom sessions, which is now taking place – an element of teaching – that would stimulate greater interaction to overcome some of the challenges,” Dr Tufton said.

Meanwhile, Dr Tufton said part of the E-COVID Taskforce response will be integrating a recognition that the mental state of our children is being challenged and making it a deliberate part of the curriculum to explore coping mechanisms to deal with the associated issues.

The health minister also appealed to Jamaicans to reach out using the mental health helpline at 888 NEW LIFE or 888-639-5433.

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