Dr. Yitades Gebre, of PAHO, and other officials said last Thursday during a virtual meeting about mental health that addressing the challenges of the 2017 hurricanes and floods in the territory helped leaders in drafting plans to cope with the Covid-19 pandemic. (Screenshot: FACEBOOK)

In an attempt to strengthen mental health and psychosocial support in the Virgin Islands amid the Covid-19 pandemic, a new educational campaign launched with a virtual meeting broadcast last Thursday on government’s Facebook page.

Featured speaker Carvin Malone, minister of health and social development, encouraged community members to be more vocal about the difficulties they may experience in coping with the pandemic and its socioeconomic effects.

“It is essential to our overall wellbeing and the wellbeing of our community that we support each other before, during and after a disaster,” Mr. Malone said as he launched the government’s Bounce Back Stronger campaign. “We are truly stronger if we work together in overcoming these occurrences.”

Government signed an agreement with the Pan American Health Organisation in 2018 to implement a project to strengthen mental health support in disaster management. Mr. Malone said individuals have benefitted from training in psychological first aid, stress management, and addressing neurological conditions in emergency settings.

Speaker Dr. Yitades Gebre, a representative with the Barbados branch of PAHO, commended the VI for limiting the spread of the virus as long as it did and using that time to consider the community’s mental health needs.

“This is a tremendous achievement, but in a global pandemic, none of us are safe until all of us are safe,” Dr. Gebre said.

It has now been more than five months since the World Health Organisation classified the coronavirus outbreak as a pandemic. Dr. Gebre said part of the population has coped “relatively well” in the face of a crisis that has presented significant psychological challenges for others.

“For many people, the fear and uncertainty surrounding Covid-19 was difficult to handle,” he continued.

Strong, community-based mental health support is an important component of dealing with such challenging circumstances, he said. He added that it is necessary in emergencies for affected communities to take ownership over the response.

But public efforts, he said, also should be supported by government programmes like the Bounce Back Stronger campaign.

“Additionally, the broader Covid-19 and disaster mental health and psychological plan is also being launched, which we also support,” Dr. Gebre said. “This initiative is timely, as we also prepare for the very active hurricane season.”

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Irad Potter said the coronavirus has brought extensive disruption and despair to the lives of many VI residents.

“That growing stress is a constant for everyone,” Dr. Potter said. “There was lots of uncertainty.”

‘Clusters’ of Covid

His statement was underscored by the fact that between the campaign launch last Thursday and the Beacon’s deadline, the territory saw an outbreak of “clusters” of community spread and entered a new curfew period.

But Dr. Potter said when the VI saw temporary relief with an absence of confirmed active cases for weeks, leaders focused on addressing mental health in their Covid-19 response. He added that one main aim was to help the community learn tools to be more resilient when coping with future events.

“Covid-19, like the disastrous events of 2017, has caused much uncertainty,” he said. “Every day as we look at what’s happening globally and regionally, we are thankful that the thoughts we put into trying to deal with the uncertainty of 2017 was applicable to the uncertainty of 2020. … In spite of those uncertainties, we recognised that together we are stronger.”