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Community Mental Health First Responders Project

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It would not be an exaggeration to say that the year 2020 has been a highly active and tumultuous year for most. Alongside navigating the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated uncertainties and lifestyle changes, we also have to navigate the daily hassles/normal stresses of life, such as balancing work and our personal lives; relationships; traffic and road rage; as well as unpredictable and unfavourable weather conditions. Responding to these events require mental, social, financial, and physical resources that are not always easily at our disposal resulting in strain or stress which, if prolonged, can have a serious effect on our mental, social and physical health. Coping and adjustment challenges to life events are normal parts of each developmental stage and the pandemic has served to reaffirm the importance of mental health and its impact on all aspects of our well-being.  

Often, when individuals think about mental health, there is a focus on mental illnesses; however, it is important to note that 1) mental health is more than the absence of illness and 2) all are susceptible to mental health challenges, which do not necessarily result in a diagnosis of a mental illness or disorder. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines mental health as a “state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.” Due to the prevailing stigma surrounding mental health in Jamaica, mental health and well-being is often ignored until it becomes a burden on the individual facing mental health challenges, and/or their significant others, their family members, work colleagues, and others in their community.

There have been several great initiatives via social media and other mediums addressing mental health, even before the pandemic. The Ministry of Health and Wellness has its “Speak Up, Speak Now” and “Move for Life” campaign, and there are community workshops and information sessions hosted by the Community Mental Health Team. Other organizations such as the Jamaica Mental Health and Advocacy Network, Jamaica Psychological Association and Safe Space also engage in similar mental health promotional activities to challenge beliefs about mental illness and health.  We at the Social Work Training and Research Centre, at The University of the West Indies, Open Campus are proud to be a part of initiatives like this through our Community Mental Health First Responders Course.

The Community Mental Health First Responders Course Project is funded by the Jamaica Social Investment Fund as part of phase four of the European Union funded Poverty Reduction Programme. The aim of the project is to normalize mental wellness as an important aspect of overall well-being and develop community mental health capacity by raising awareness, knowledge and skills of community members, enabling them to respond to mental health needs as it arises within their community as well as take better care of their own mental health. This project is targeted towards lay-persons in the community, especially those who interact with various community members regularly, such as community leaders, JPs, community organisers, teachers etc. During the project, with a trained facilitator, the participants explored various topics including good vs poor mental health, mental health across the life span, mental health care, and mental health and the family in either an 8-hour workshop or 30-hour course. The project concluded with a virtual closing ceremony, which celebrated the success of our first course cohort of twenty-six students from three communities in Kingston. We are excited about the prospects and possibility of this programme which is the first of its kind in the region to train mental health first responders, not only in geographic communities, but within organizations as well.

Prior to the pandemic, mental health services were underfunded and it will have further challenges as countries seek to juggle the various economic consequences of the pandemic. According to the WHO, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, “countries were spending less than 2 percent of their national health budgets on mental health and struggling to meet their populations’ needs.” Therefore we continue to encourage you to take control of your wellness journey and take care of your health, especially your mental health. We also encourage you to participate in wellness initiatives accessible to you.  All aspects of our wellness and well-being are connected, therefore if one is out of sync, it can negatively impact the others.

If you are interested in participating in this course, or learning more about our Centre, you can contact us at 876-927-2478 or email us at swtrc@open.uwi.edu. We are located at 12 Gibraltar Camp Way on The UWI Mona Campus, Mona, Kingston 7.  You may also follow us on our social media pages at uwiopencampus_swtrc on Instagram or UWI, Social Work Training and Research Centre on Facebook.