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A total of 26 residents from three Corporate Area communities have been trained as mental health first responders under a pilot project carried out by the Social Work Training and Research Centre (SWTRC) at the University of the West Indies’ (UWI) Open Campus.

The residents, from Allman Town, August Town and Jones Town, have been equipped with knowledge and skills to respond to mental health needs as they arise within their communities.

Speaking at a JIS Think Tank on Thursday (Dec. 10), SWTRC Head, Cerita Buchanan, explained that the objective of the Mental Health First Responders Project is to support the work being undertaken in the area by the Ministry of Health and Wellness.

“It is so important and so we have the Ministry of Health and Wellness as an affiliate partner on this project,” she noted.

“We are aware that Ministry is doing a lot of training and other agencies (as well) but what we realised is, the focus is more from a clinical and illness approach. So we thought that we wanted to look at mental health in a more holistic manner,” Miss Buchanan explained.

“What we want to do is to actually create a cadre of persons, who are focused as first responders at the community level. So we are not just looking at mental illness as it relates to psychosis,” she added.

The training was conducted through support of $3 million from the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF), under its European Union-funded Poverty Reduction Programme.

Sensitisation workshops were first carried out in the communities, after which 26 persons were selected to participate in the first responders training. These include pastors, teachers, community workers and one correctional officer.

They were taken through a 30-hour training programme, which ended in November.

Meanwhile, the SWTRC Head said that the entity is doing some additional research in terms of community mental health and also some training.

She said that the project will eventually expand to empower persons within the workplace to offer mental health support, such as human resources personnel, police officers and correctional officers.

She pointed out that in many instances “there are staff members, who come in to the office and they really feel down and colleagues don’t know how to handle it,” noting that the trained mental health first responders within the workplace would be able to deal with such situations.

The closing exercise for the pilot of the Mental Health First Responders Project will take place in a virtual format on Thursday (December 17).

“We will be able to hear from the participants and celebrate what they have achieved in the pilot programme,” Miss Buchanan said.

She informed that the team at the SWTRC will be working on the content for the training with the expectation that it will eventually be offered through the UWI as a course.

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