Westmoreland gets big mental health boost
BELMONT, Westmoreland — Having tragically lost her five-year-old nephew to gun violence last year and her father shortly after, 31-year-old social worker Marsha-Lee Sterling-Watson has been battered by grief.
After a psychological first aide (PFA) training programme, she now has the skills to help herself and others in her inner-city community of Grange Hill, Westmoreland, cope with a crisis.
Sterling-Watson is among 26 freshly minted psychological first-aiders in the parish that made up the second cohort of the programme developed by Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO).
“I’m very much familiar with grief because less than a year [apart] two people very close to me died. My nephew Tavoy Cummings was shot and killed in St James and less than a month close to the death of his anniversary, my father passed away suddenly,” Sterling-Watson told the Jamaica Observer following her graduation at Luna Sea Inn on Monday.
Cummings was one of two people gunned down at a funeral in Johns Hall St James last year November. He was shot in the back.
Sterling-Watson and other community members went through weeks of training and are now tasked with providing first response in the areas of trauma and mental health. The initiative was spearheaded by the European Union (EU) and the Citizen Security Secretariat, which falls under the Ministry of National Security.
Sterling-Watson said with the training she received she is now better able to help her late nephew’s mother who is still struggling to cope.
“Being a part of this training, I understand the process of grief I’m going through and how I can respond to my story as well as responding to my family members. After one year of the shooting my sister is still paranoid, and in doing psychological first aid, I’m able to respond to her and understand what she’s going through even after a whole year,” the job placement officer at HEART Trust/NSTA told the Jamaica Observer.
She pledged to continue serving her community through her new role.
“I am a beacon in my community… I live in one of the inner-city communities, and so being a part of the programme I thought it would be a good experience for me to be better equipped to respond to my community,” Sterling-Watson explained.
In addressing graduates, state minister in the Ministry of National Security Juliet Cuthbert-Flynn noted that the programme is a critical initiative in Jamaica’s efforts to combat crime and violence.
“As we all know, the issues that we face daily are indeed very complex and demand solutions that go far beyond the ordinary. Your participation in this training embodies a commitment to activate problem-solving strategies,” the minister stressed.
Cuthbert-Flynn lauded stakeholders who made the programme possible.
“I must take this moment to acknowledge the invaluable contribution of the trainers whose expertise has guided and shaped this remarkable cohort. Their commitment and guidance have been instrumental in equipping all of you here this evening… None of this would have been possible without the unwavering support of the partners and the stakeholders — the European Union, the technical assistant team and the citizens’ security secretariat — [who] have been integral in spearheading this invaluable training their commitment,” she said.
Speaking during the event EU Head of Cooperation Aniceto Rodriquez Ruiz noted that crime and violence prevention requires a tailor-made, multi-disciplinary approach.
“Effective preventive action must be localised and community-driven. Case management and psychosocial support services have proven to be effective in reducing the risk of perpetuating the cycle of violence,” he reasoned.
He said PFAs are becoming more crucial now that people are more aware of the need to be mentally healthy.
“In a world where the importance of mental health is increasingly recognised, the role of psychological first-aiders becomes more crucial,” he noted.
The second cohort, Ruiz said, has not only completed a training programme but has embraced a responsibility that extends beyond guidelines and classrooms.
“Each graduate must try to embrace the values of empathy, of compassion of understanding that are the core of the psychological first-aiders,” he charged.