Madame Speaker, we have seen over recent weeks the detrimental impact that COVID-19 can have on our mental health and overall sense of wellbeing.

In the general population, we hear 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.

Our health care workers, too, are coming under significant strain and with potentially negative implications for their mental health. At the UHWI, 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.

Madame Speaker, the Ministry of Health and Wellness has heard and is intent on making the necessary interventions to arrest the problem, understanding what is at stake in the effort to ensure the best possible health outcomes for all as we face down COVID-19.

It should be noted that since the start of the pandemic, the Ministry has been alert to the mental health challenges that can arise from having people in quarantine or isolated from family and friends, to say nothing of the economic challenges that can come with a pandemic of this scale and the stress faced by health care workers responding to the demands of the various public health interventions.

We know that isolation and loneliness during any pandemic presents specific mental health risks for teenagers and the elderly and the Ministry has been monitoring these vulnerable groups, as part of our overall COVID19 response.

Madame Speaker, there is no doubt that the pandemic is affecting the mental health of many people. Data out of the United States show that some 53% of adults report that their mental health has been negatively impacted due to worry and stress over the pandemic.

We are already aware, through the Mental Health and Homelessness Task Force Report that I commissioned in 2017 that one in four Jamaicans may develop a mental illness at some point during their lifetime.

As the number of COVID-19 cases and related deaths increase, the Ministry is anticipating that the prevalence of mental illness will also increase. The Ministry notes with specific interest the increased impact of the mental health challenge on our elderly population who are having greater levels of anxiety due in part to the fact that the death rate among their population is 10 times that of the young.

This is coupled with the fact that their usual visits, social engagements, the connections of church, the connections of social gatherings and other mental health coping mechanisms have been removed. This poses significant challenge to their ability to manage their mental health outcomes.

All of these challenges require immediate and comprehensive interventions to prevent the dual scourge of COVID-19 and mental illness.

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