Wednesday 21 October, 2020

Experts: support must be expanded to address post-COVID mental health

Dr Shannon Seymour, Director and Clinical Psychologist at The Wellness Centre Ltd.

Dr Shannon Seymour, Director and Clinical Psychologist at The Wellness Centre Ltd.

"Countries in the Americas should expand and invest in mental health services to cope with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic," said Pan American Health Organization Director Carissa F. Etienne this week. “The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a mental health crisis in our region at a scale we’ve never seen before. It’s a perfect storm in every country, as we see growing needs and reduced resources to address them. It is urgent that mental health support is considered a critical component of the pandemic response.” 

According to Dr Etienne, coronavirus cases in the Americas have reached almost 11.5 million and over 400,000 people have died. “The Americas have approximately 13 per cent of the world’s population, but 64 per cent of officially reported global deaths,” she said.

Luckily, the countries of the Caribbean have had much better outcomes than many countries in the world. Cayman, in particular, has been highly successful in suppressing the virus. But effective suppression is best achieved through strict mobility restrictions that can have psychological impacts, disproportionately affecting groups that were already vulnerable prior to legally enforced isolation. These include the elderly, victims of domestic violence, children, the disabled and the LGBTQ community, among others. 

“For the past six months we have taken extreme actions, expensive actions to protect human life from Covid19," said Shannon Seymour, Director and Clinical Psychologist at The Wellness Centre Ltd, in an interview with Loop Cayman.  "We now need the same collective efforts to mitigate the mental health crisis that is looming in the immediate future. We need schools and businesses, families and communities and we need our government to prioritize mental healthcare. In order to rebuild an economy, and to recover communities we need whole and healthy people."

“Although Cayman has done an incredible job of controlling COVID-19, we don’t seem to be as immune to the mental health crisis being reported by PAHO. We are certainly experiencing an increase in acute mental health issues and an increase in mental problems related to anxiety and fear,” she continued.

Children and Adolescents

According to a US study, commissioned by the National 4-H Council, 70 per cent of young people, ages 13-19 years are struggling with their mental health in the wake of COVID-19. The study also found that 67 per cent of respondents felt pressured to keep their feelings to themselves, and 70 per cent wished their school taught them more about mental health and coping strategies.

These are important considerations as schools begin to re-open next week. In this light, Dr Seymour created a video to support parents and children with the transition back to school at this time.

 

There are also a number of initiatives that are being implemented to support the mental health of young people during this period.

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Recognising the impact of the pandemic on mental health in young people, the R3 Foundation recently granted $25,000 to the Alex Panton Foundation in support of its Emotional Literacy Programme.

“The Emotional Literacy Programme helps children develop the skills to communicate effectively and cope with anxieties. These are essential skills, not just for processing the unprecedented circumstances they have experienced over the last few months, but for lifelong emotional wellbeing,” said Joannah Bodden Small of the R3 Foundation.

The Red Cross has also been conducting mobile assessments of child and teen mental health through their mobile unit. “I’ve been part of the Red Cross mobile health screening, and almost every night we are meeting children and teenagers who are experiencing fairly severe mental health difficulties,” said Dr Seymour.

Victims of Domestic Violence

In late March, Police Commissioner Derek Byrne indicated that with home isolation, there was an increase in domestic violence reports, with police recordings indicating as many as seven cases reported in a single night.

The Cayman Islands Crisis Centre issued a release during the height of the pandemic, emphasizing that "as the COVID-19 spreads we are being advised to practise social distancing, stay at home as much as possible and to observe curfew. For most of us, our homes are the safest places to be in right now, however, for survivors of domestic violence, their homes are the most dangerous. The isolation, unemployment, financial stress and spending a lot of time under the same roof as the abuser, make the survivors even more vulnerable." 

 

“Mental health and domestic violence services are essential services, and we must place emphasis on addressing the gaps that have been laid bare by the pandemic. Today, I ask countries to take the steps required to ensure everyone can receive the care they need and deserve,” said PAHO's Director.

Healthcare workers

“After months of operating in crisis mode, our health professionals are facing burnout, anxiety and depression,” said PAHO's Director. "The most effective steps are to hire and train more health workers and integrate mental health and psychosocial support within primary health care systems so they’re easily accessible to those who need them most," she added.

An open forum

The Cayman Islands Healthcare Conference will take place virtually on October 17 under the theme ‘Re-envisioning Life with a Pandemic’, and will explore mental health issues surrounding the pandemic.

“We can’t celebrate our success with COVID-19 until we have a comprehensive mental health response plan that is as well organized and as well funded as our public health efforts have been,” said Dr Seymour.

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