Founder and CEO of the Centre for Human Development, Hanif Benjamin, Clinical Therapist and Clinical Traumatologist.

Founder and CEO of the Centre for Human Development, Hanif Benjamin, says while there are attempts to move from a pandemic into an endemic stage, there is much work to be done to ensure that the people’s coping mechanisms are strengthened as national and global challenges continue to mount.

Speaking on CNC3’s The Morning Brew show today, Hanif Benjamin—a Clinical Therapist and Clinical Traumatologist—says many people are barely holding on and it is becoming apparent in the suicide rate.

Serious social fallout

He notes the poor and most vulnerable in society have been pushed even further across the brink.

“We have to consider: how do we rebuild the social tapestry of a country?  Right now, in many countries, they are facing two great ills—mental health and the socially displaced,” he observed.  “How do we bring people back to a level of functioning where they feel as if their dignity and worth are intact in such a way that they don’t have to consider suicide?  Where they don’t have to consider that the end is near for them and their children?” 

“And so, it requires a different level of thinking in our society from our leaders as we continue to grapple with social fallout,” the clinical therapist asserts.

According to Hanif Benjamin, even though the world is trying to transition from the pandemic to the endemic stage of COVID-19, that attempt to move on is further complicated by rising prices and increasing cost of living, further exacerbated by the war in Ukraine.

“People will continue to suffer,” he points out, “and it will be important for the government of the day and other agencies to figure out how they can cushion the impact of these new challenges and forces.”

He adds: “Serious conversations need to happen about the way we tax and make money, so that the vulnerable do not continue to carry the burden.”

Businesses hard hit

Many businesses would have closed their doors permanently because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Hanif Benjamin observes that many business owners he has counselled have struggled to maintain a healthy mental attitude as they see their financial independence and business fortunes crumble.

“What I found was an infusion of mental health challenges,” he notes, “such as depression and anxiety.  Many of them were willing to give up.”

The clinical therapist had words of encouragement for those trying to rebuild their businesses from the ashes of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“You may have to change the way you do business. You may have to change the hours you do business.  It may mean you would have to go back to, as if it was your first time, where you as a businessowner had to work 24 hours to make things work,” he explained.

He warned: “To stop would lead to depression and even suicidal ideation.  It is okay to feel unwell. It is not okay to stay in the place of being unwell.”

“You will need to motivate yourself to bring yourself to a different level. You will have to tell yourself, ‘I cannot stop here. I cannot remain here. I must get up and reengineer the way I think’,” he added, pointing out that crisis provides and opportunity for one to reengineer their lives to be able to survive, whatever may come.

Build resilience into our people

Hanif Benjamin also points to what has been happening with the nation’s children.  He maintains children must be properly assessed as they are preparing to return to in-person teaching in physical classrooms.

“Children are now going back to school and time must be spent on assessing their mental wellbeing, and providing resilience programs for both children and adolescents,” he points out.

“We must also do the same for our adults,” he added.

According to Hanif Benjamin, this country has what it takes to come out of the COVID-19 pandemic even stronger than before.  He warns, however, that if we fail to take seriously the lessons learnt during this challenging time, we would have failed.

“The world will never be the same.  Trinidad and Tobago will never be the same.  If you are waiting for the pandemic to be over so you can ‘go back to your life’, then you would have failed moving forward,” he stated.  “The pandemic has shown us that we are a strong and resilient people. I have no doubt that we will bounce back.  As a country, we are seeing signs of that.”

He says part of the building back process must include a focus on mental health and wellbeing.

“In most disasters, we build back the pretty buildings. We put back the infrastructure.  But if the mind is left behind…  No building or infrastructure would withstand a weak mind and so, we must continue to work on mental health as the priority in this country,” he said.