EDITORIAL: Consider COVID-19 impact on mental health

THE COVID-19 pandemic is highlighting the need to urgently increase investments in services for mental health or instead risk a massive increase in mental health conditions in the coming months, according to a report from the World Health Organisation.

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO), recently pointed out that the impact of the pandemic on people’s mental health is already extremely concerning. He stressed that, “Social isolation, fear of contagion, and loss of family members is compounded by the distress caused by loss of income and often employment.”

The WHO goes on to note that specific population groups are at particular risk of COVID-related psychological distress, including frontline health-care workers faced with heavy workloads, life-or-death decisions and risk of infection. Also, children and adolescents, especially those in households who witness or are part of abusive situations; women, particularly those who are juggling home-schooling, working from home and household tasks; older persons and people with pre-existing mental health conditions. Reports already indicate an increase in symptoms of depression and anxiety in a number of countries, says the WHO.

Here in Barbados, one official in charge of an organisation that works with at-risk youth and who is now providing some “psychological first aid” to some teachers, has pointed out that it cannot be business as usual whenever schools reopen, as some students may be in need of psychological interventions during the post-COVID-19 period. Acknowledging the adjustments that have had to be made for both teachers and students to adapt to the new emergency remote teaching and learning environment, that official pointed out that whilst some teachers have been facing difficulty in separating their home environment from their work environment as the two are now intertwined, consideration must be given to the students as well, who are finding it hard to cope. He further made it clear that the first few weeks of school cannot simply be about the academics and the authorities must find it fit to have psychological professionals come into the classroom, to work with children and talk them through the whole COVID-19 experience.

We are now hearing that a new date has been set for the Common Entrance Exam here in Barbados and that at the primary level, Class 4 students will be heading back into the classroom from June 15, under strict protocols, to allow them enough time to prepare for the exam. Also, that students completing CSEC and CAPE SBAs at the secondary level will also return to school, in a phased reopening. We do hope that as these students return, along with their teachers, some psychological interventions are given to help them readjust, as surely there may be some concerns and fears and there will clearly be need for a settling in period. We must ensure that just as we are taking care of persons’ physical well-being, we are also treating to their mental well-being as well. This is very important.

The example given of students returning to school is just one aspect, but there is need for well-being programmes that focus on mental health, to reach persons who may be in need of counselling services or psychological first aid or those who may just simply need to be assisted in finding ways to re-emerge and balance their new normal, whether in the workplace, the community, or otherwise.

Barbados Advocate

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