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Tufton encourages J’cans to help end mental health stigma

Published:Saturday | March 18, 2023 | 1:02 AMAsha Wilks/Gleaner Writer
From left: unveiling the Wellness bench are Vicente Teran, deputy Representative of UNICEF, Ian Stein, PAHO/WHO Representative to Jamaica, Bermuda, and the Cayman Islands, Senator, Dr Sapphire Longmore, Kali McMorris, Principal of Convent of Mercy Academy
From left: unveiling the Wellness bench are Vicente Teran, deputy Representative of UNICEF, Ian Stein, PAHO/WHO Representative to Jamaica, Bermuda, and the Cayman Islands, Senator, Dr Sapphire Longmore, Kali McMorris, Principal of Convent of Mercy Academy (Alpha), Simone Clarke Cooper, Dr Judith Leiba, Director, Child and Adolescent Mental Health of Ministry of Health and Wellness and Dr. Christopher Tufton, Minister of Health and Wellness at the Launch of the #DoYourShare campaign - Observation of World Mental Health Day at Convent of Mercy Academy (Alpha) in Kingston on Monday, October 10, 2022.

The Ministry of Health & Wellness is reporting that since the start of the year, 187 calls made to the 24-hour toll-free mental health and suicide prevention helpline (888-NEW-LIFE) have been handled. Of this number, 94 were females and the balance of 93 were males.

Dr Christopher Tufton, the health minister, made the disclosure while responding to written questions posed by The Gleaner regarding the success of the #Doyourshare campaign which was launched in October 2022.

He said the range of issues which were dealt with through the helpline that was launched in 2020 included 16 calls of suicidal thoughts; 18 calls of emotional distress; seven regarding depression; 19 regarding schizophrenia; 15 calls connected to crisis interventions and three calls relating to bipolar disorder.

The others were related to anxiety; abuse and violence; substance use; self-esteem and peer relationships.

The #Doyourshare campaign is a regionwide effort aimed at creating public awareness about mental wellness, support services and safe spaces. It also seeks to inspire positive health-seeking behaviour among members of the population about their mental wellness and reduce the stigma and discrimination around mental ill health.

During last year’s commemoration of World Mental Health Day, on October 10, the Convent of Mercy (Alpha) in Kingston received a symbolic wellness bench, representing a safe place for students of the all-girls institution to unburden themselves from the stresses that afflict them.

“The wellness bench is a symbol to remind the population to afford space and time for persons to share, get support and, where necessary, seek further help. We will know in the coming months how well the bench as one element of the overall campaign efforts to support mental health is received,” he said.

He added that more benches are to be installed in schools and communities in the coming months, after which a formal assessment of the programme will be done.

Tufton encouraged members of the public to visit designated ‘wellness benches’ or other safe spaces as part of doing their share to end mental health stigma and to stimulate community-level conversation around the topic.

“Of course, not having the physical bench does not preclude persons from sharing experiences, receiving validation of those experiences and support (listening ear), as well as feeling encouraged (not ashamed or fearful) to seek further assistance if ventilation did not achieve optimal outcome/relief,” he added.

Tufton, who declined to disclose the cost of the bench, stated that it was paid for by the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), which has provided support to the health ministry in the implementation of the campaign.

The Ministry of Education is also a partner in the campaign.

Kali McMorris, principal of Alpha, told The Gleaner on Friday that since installation, the bench has been used daily by students as it provided another space for them “to capitalise on the outdoors” and to clear their minds.

“We engage in the outdoors as a part of our general health and wellness, for eating, recreation and interacting in a healthy way and so that’s a normal part of our activity at Alpha academy and so the bench is one more part of that,” she said.

McMorris said that the institution’s robust guidance counsellor’s programme fully engaged the students in ensuring that they were as healthy as possible.

Tufton said that the ministry was focused on continuing to further the nation’s efforts to end mental health stigma and promote wellness.

The school mental health literacy (SMHL) programme, which was launched in October, has trained over 500 school professionals including health and family life educators, school nurses and guidance counsellors in competencies in mental health literacy.

asha.wilks@gleanerjm.com