–PAHO, CDB join forces to address mental health across the Caribbean

WIDELY regarded as ‘a black-swan event’, the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) struck like the proverbial thief in the night and quickly swept across the world within months, taking lives and leaving many economies overwhelmed as they struggle to put the pieces back together.

The Caribbean region has been gravely affected by the virus, and on top of this, many islands and countries are now faced with battening down for the hurricane season, which will be even more stressful amid the health crisis. However, in its attempt to bring peace of mind to those who reside in the Caribbean region, the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) on Monday teamed up with the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) to launch its ‘Stronger Together’ campaign under the theme, ‘Connecting to Feel Safe, Calm and Hopeful’.

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During the launch, which was held virtually in respect to the COVID-19 guidelines, CDB Vice-President (Operations), Diedre Clarendon said that the ‘stronger together’ campaign is a new take on a project that was rolled out last year to address both mental health as well as the stigma associated with seeking help.
She observed that COVID-19 has had such a huge impact on the lives of people in the Caribbean that many are still trying to come to terms with it, as well as prepare themselves for the coming hurricane season.

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“The down-stream impacts for these hurricanes are likely to cause heightened stress, fear, depression and anxiety across populations that are already coping with the COVID-19 impacts, [and] personal resilience is the key requirement for sustainable human development, and its nexus with mental wellness and positive coping strategies,” Clarendon said.

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She noted that while mental health is often overlooked, with the emergence of COVID-19, the CDB has expanded its scope of collaborations to include it in its programmes.

“This 2020 campaign; Stronger Together campaign,” she said, “we have adapted a number of resources, such as psychosocial search first aid guide, social media cards, and a jingle for use in this effort.”

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INFORMATION-DRIVEN

PAHO’s Jessie Schutt-Aine at Monday’s event

Clarendon further noted that the call to action and theme, ‘Connecting Feel Safe, Calm And Hopeful’, aims to offer information and communication strategies to assist communities in promoting mental wellbeing and positive coping strategies, as well as raise awareness to reduce the stigma of seeking mental health and psychosocial support while adhering to social-distancing protocols.

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She said that the aim of the initial project was to conduct needs assessments and action plans, as well as train journalists and health communicators, while the purpose of the updated version is to make way for social media involvement, as the programme will be working with social media influencers such as DJs, and those involved with mobile application technology to reach wider audiences. In her closing statements, Clarendon urged all to come on board with the initiative. “We invite you to use and disseminate this resource widely to support those in need, and to encourage them to seek help as is required, “ Clarendon said, adding: “In this way, we will build resilience and we will be stronger together.”

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Meanwhile, Jessie Schutt-Aine, PAHO’s Sub-regional Programme Coordinator, who also spoke at the campaign launch stated that the event couldn’t have occurred at a better time.

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“There couldn’t be a better time for this, as we all are feeling the need to connect; to feel safe, and to feel calm and hopeful. It has been six months since the WHO declared COVID-19 an emergency of national concern,” Schutt-Aine said, adding that in those few short months, just about everyone’s
life has undergone some kind of change.

“Who would have imagined this unprecedented situation just six months ago! We have been faced with prolonged periods of lockdown, not being able to connect with our friends families, coworkers!” Schutt-Aine declared, adding: “Many people are feeling uncertainty, as large numbers are affected by loss of livelihoods and feeling fear and anxiety. This unprecedented situation has taken a toll on mental health, triggering the reactions of depression anxiety and worry.”

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Despite the challenges adults are facing, she stated that children too have to be taken into consideration, with their daily routines being changed, schools closed, as well as dealing with homeschooling, all while not fully understanding what is happening around them.

In addition to the impacts of the COVID-19 virus, Schutt-Aine stated that many in the Caribbean, especially the islands, are still recovering physically and emotionally from some of the major hurricanes of the past few years, including Irma, Maria and Dorian.

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Hence PAHO and CDB are responding to the situation with the stronger campaign, which will provide information and tools to promote mental wellbeing coping strategies, and to raise awareness around the stigma of seeking help and psychosocial support.

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