Become mentally resilient for the next crisis, expert advises
Associate Clinical Psychologist Keisha Bowla-Hinds (fourth left) gesticulates while addressing this week’s Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange. Flanking her are other health-care professionals (from left) Keron Crossman Johnson, environmental health specialist with the Ministry of Health and Wellness; Medical Technologist Mitchelle Maylor-Orchat; Nurse Sophia Francis, who is assiigned to National Chest Hospital; Dr Susan Strachan Johnson, acting senior medical officer, Kingston and St Andrew Health Department; and Dr Judith Leiba, director, child and adolescent mental health. (Photo: Naphtali Junior)

A mental health expert is urging Jamaicans to prepare psychologically for any future pandemic or crisis as this will place them in a better position to balance the gamut of situations and emotions which many have been forced to face during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“When we are reactive I feel as if we just start 10 steps behind the start line; because we are reactive we start after we hear go. Moving forward, I don’t want us to wait until another pandemic comes to figure out if we will be able to manage it. I want us to recognise that another pandemic is possible — not just a pandemic, but that other issues, other disasters, from all angels, are possible,” said Associate Clinical Psychologist Keisha Bowla-Hinds, co-ordinator, counselling services, Liguanea region of the South East Regional Health Authority.

Bowla-Hinds said individuals should begin now to make themselves resilient enough to face any other crisis of a similar magnitude.

“One way to do that is to start very good mental health practices. Something as simple as self-care, take a minute to be compassionate to yourself. We are always rushing… at lunch time, actually pause and eat, if it’s for half an hour, do nothing but consume your meals, enjoy it,” she urged.

The psychologist was among a panel of health professionals who were guests at this week’s Jamaica Monday Exchange sharing their experiences when the country was in the throes of the pandemic, the lessons learnt, and the way forward.

The session was held ahead of the start of the ministry’s slate of activities for Health Workers’ Appreciation Month, which will be observed in July.

“If we could become more mindful and intentional — when we ask someone how are you, look into their eyes, check to see if when they say fine their eyes say fine too. Ninety per cent of the time their eyes say, ‘I wish you would spend a moment to ask me what’s really happening.’ These are simple things, we don’t need money, we don’t need training to love each other, just extend care,” said Bowla-Hinds.

She said part of this mindfulness is also acknowledging and understanding all types of emotions.

“Simple self-care can just mean we are aware of when we are having a crappy day and acknowledging that we are having a crappy day and being okay with having a crappy day. We are not designed to smile every day, we are dynamic beings; some days we are down, some days we are up, but as we continue to practise what we feel and how we feel, we will get to the balance,” she explained.

The psychologist said this mental balance, if practised, will enable people to better navigate pandemic-like situations in future.

“So when a pandemic or whatever else comes, we already have something in place to keep us buoyant, [such as] already practising good sleep hygiene, we’re already eating well, we’re already supporting each other, so that those things are already covered,” she outlined.

The other panellists were Dr Susan Strachan Johnson, acting senior medical officer for Kingston and St Andrew Health Department; Sophia Francis, a nurse at National Chest Hospital; environmental health specialist with the ministry Keron Crossman Johnson; Dr Judith Leiba, director, child and adolescent mental health; and coordinator, medical technology services Mitchelle Maylor-Orchat.

Portfolio minister Dr Christopher Tufton announced in his sectoral presentation in Parliament in May that the month of July would be dedicated to recognising the island’s health-care professionals for outstanding service in their field during the pandemic. He also advised that July 13 will be declared Health-care Workers’ Appreciation Day.

BY ALPHEA SUMNER Senior staff reporter saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

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