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The Ministry of Health and Wellness is to implement a COVID-19 Mental Health Response Programme aimed at mitigating the progression of mental health issues that have or are otherwise anticipated to emerge, resulting from COVID-19.

This was disclosed by Portfolio Minister, Dr. the Hon. Christopher Tufton, during his Statement to the House of Representatives on October 6, at the Jamaica Conference Centre.

He said the intention is to provide community-based support, creating ease of access to mental health services through community engagement, and mass media education to promote mental health and prevent mental illness.

“The first component of the programme will focus on increasing the skill set of our healthcare workers and community volunteers to include Psychological First Aid, so that they are better equipped to respond to mental health issues within communities,” Dr. Tufton said.

He informed that the Ministry is to be supported in this effort by key partners, including the Jamaica Red Cross and the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO).

The programme will also feature targeted community interventions, notably a volunteer service that provides vulnerable community members with assistance with day-to-day tasks, including the purchase of groceries and the filling of prescriptions.

The Ministry will also organise neighbourly check-ins and provide special transport services for the elderly as they go out to get the essentials of life.

“These and other initiatives will be supported by a media and community engagement campaign, which will seek to create greater public awareness of the issue of mental health within the context of COVID-19,” Dr. Tufton said.

He further assured the public that the Ministry of Health and Wellness is prioritising COVID-19-related mental health issues and will endeavour to make the required resources available to support the programme.

“The programme will be supported by a $20-million budget that will be utilised in the administration and coordination of all elements of the intervention. Of course, we cannot do it alone. I am, therefore, urging community stakeholders and private-sector partners to come alongside the Ministry to ensure the success of this most important effort,” Dr. Tufton said.

Meanwhile, Dr. Tufton said the Ministry has heard of the elevated levels of fear, anxiety and loneliness from children and parents who access the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Clinics.

“They admit to feeling overwhelmed and not being able to manage the demands of online schooling. We also hear of the stressors associated with the financial challenges that have accompanied the pandemic, such as among tourism workers in the west,” Dr. Tufton said.

He added that the nation’s health \care workers, too, are coming under significant strain and with potentially negative implications for their mental health.

“At the University Hospital of the West Indies, for example, the COVID-19 team is working seven days straight for 12 hours minimum. Our registered and specialist nurses are doing, on average, 16 extra hours per week. Those in residential COVID-19 facilities live in for up to 14 days without rotation,” he noted.

The Minister also urged members of the public who may be experiencing anxiety or other mental health challenges to access the Ministry’s mental health support services.

To do so, they can call the Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Helpline at 888-NEW-LIFE (639-5433).

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