FILE PHOTO: Ministry of Health Mental Health Director Dr Hazel Othello and Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh after a post-Cabinet news conference on March 19.

A national mental health plan for this country is being developed to help the public as they continue to grapple with the enforced changes required as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Twenty-three mental health organisations and non-government organisations (NGOs) met on Tuesday to discuss the best method to provide psycho-social support.

“A mental health and psycho-social technical working group as mentioned by the minister has been set up and is currently chaired by the director of mental health services, that is myself. This group has been established and it will meet weekly for the months of May and June and subsequently to that it will meet bi-weekly as long as it’s required,” said Dr Hazel Othello, director of the Mental Health Unit at the Ministry of Health.

“The group is committed to ensuring that the appropriate MHPSS (mental health psycho-social support) services reach every identifiable target group within our communities throughout the duration of the pandemic and beyond in order to reduce suffering and improve mental health and psycho-social wellbeing of persons affected by the global COVID-19 pandemic.”

Dr Othello explained that among the measures to be introduced in the Mental Health national plan were training for Ministry of Health COVID-19 Helpline Responders to allow them to become first responders to mental health cases.

A private sector-sponsored Employee Assistance Programme service is also to be launched to aid employees.

Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh explained that the plan also had specifics on groups which may be most affected by the sudden change caused by the pandemic.

“When you look at all the literature coming out of the WHO and everyone else, it talks about worry, fear and concern. We know that rates of stress and anxiety are going up because of isolation and quarantine. And there are particular populations we are concerned about, the elderly who may not understand what is going on and also children, who may not understand what is going on,” he said.

The plan would allow persons affected by increased anxiety due to stay-at-home measures, to reach out to various hotlines.

The minister listing three:



800-HEAL (Tobago)

Dr Othello said the multiple meetings would help them identify potential gaps in the necessary scope of the plan.

“This plan is dynamic in nature and will adapt to the changing psycho-social needs as the technical working group continues to meet, share expertise, identify gaps and work to ensure that those gaps are filled in a timely manner. Focus areas of this initial plan include co-ordination, communication, health systems strengthening, public health measures, surveillance and epidemiological intelligence and research,” she said.

—Peter Christopher