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Dr Hazel Othello, Director of Mental Health, Ministry of Health.

As the population grapples with mental fatigue, depression and grief due to the pandemic they are being advised to practice the three Ss—self care, support one another and seek help.

The advice came from the Ministry of Health’s director of Mental Health Dr Hazel Othello during the ministry’s virtual COVID-19 press conference yesterday.

Acknowledging the difficulties facing the population, particularly those who may have lost loved ones or battling the virus, as well as the pressure facing frontline workers, she again reminded the public of the importance of mental health care during this time.

Noting the challenges circumstances with the daily news of deaths, people testing positive, the many complexities of staying at home and the status of the healthcare system, she asked, “How do we cope with this? Emerge as healthy individuals and continue to make positive contributions to society.

“The answer is exactly what many mental health practitioners have been recommending from the very beginning of the pandemic. I know you are very familiar with the three Ws that have been shared very often— wash your hands, watch your distance, wear your masks properly. Today I am introducing you to the three Ss—self care, support one another and seek help.”

Elaborating on the topic of self care, she empathised the importance of managing information exposure.

“If the daily round of social media feeds about the pandemic layered on top of the 24-hour news cycle has been making you feel irritable, depressed, anxious or just stressed it is time to place some limits on your exposure. Just turn it off. Trust me, we don’t need to know about every scary development the moment it happens. Sometimes we have to separate ourselves for a while,” she said.

However, she said if there is nothing structured or planned during the time usually spent looking at the television or reading social media, she said it is likely that time will still be spent worrying.

“So it is important to spend that time in meaningful activities that are relaxing and enjoyable to you,” Othello said.

She also suggested exercising, relaxation exercises and group activities with immediate family or virtually with family or friends.

Another important aspect of self care, she said, is managing work from home hours. While this might be challenging for persons who have demanding jobs, she said, “Be aware maintaining a healthy work life balance is very important

It reduces stress and it helps prevent burn out,” she noted.

On the second topic of supporting one another, Othello advised: “If you provide a listening ear to a friend or a relative in distress without yourself becoming emotionally overwhelmed please do it in order to support that person. However, if providing that support to that person is overwhelming you or if you are beginning to realise that that person need more support than you are capable of providing or that you should even be trying to provide please help that persons to seek professional help.”

On the issue of seeking help, she encouraged people to seek help and don’t allow fear of stigma to prevent them from getting the help they need.

For people who may not know where to find help, she advised them to reach out to ministry’s website www.findcare.tt.com. She said it allows people to look for different services, source help lines and all services are free of charge. In answer to a question, Othello said it is equally, if not more important, that children exercise. Not doing so, she said, could affect their mental health and also result in obesity that could lead to health implications.

As for the frontline health care workers, she said the ministry has been collaborating with the mental health service providers at the RHAs to ensure that the arrangements that were put in place since last year for the provision of mental health support for these workers remain available, accessible and responsive.

She also noted that last year the Mental Health Division in collaboration with PAHO conducted a webinar for workers.