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Panel Discusses COVID-19 and Mental Health

The COVID-19 pandemic, now more than six months old, has affected mental health along with physical health and the economy, as the effort to combat the virus’s spread left people feeling isolated and alone, according to participants in a virtual discussion about the psychological impacts of COVID-19 for employment settings.

The two-hour virtual panel discussion was sponsored by the Central Bank of Barbados and the Human Resources Management Association of Barbados. It was held on Thursday and is available for viewing online.

“The biggest report flagged is the ability to balance restarting the economy with the social aspect of things,” said Brittany Brathwaite, president of the Human Resources Management Association. “Ensuring that our people are mentally well, their surroundings and everyone they are managing are well, is equally as important as wearing a mask.”

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According to Brathwaite, when the pandemic began non-essential workers in the Caribbean and around the world were forced to curtail physical interaction with their colleagues for months. For some, face-to-face, physical interaction came to a complete halt. Understanding the effect of that change is important, Brathwaite said.

“The remote work has created an impact on how employers are managing with their team. That feeling of belonging has dissipated.”

Other symptoms that may be experienced by employees who are returning to work may include the fear of returning to work, fear of contracting the disease and not knowing what they will encounter in the workplace.

“Managing people’s fear from a mental aspect should be left to the professionals,” Brathwaite said.

When someone denies the reality of COVID-19 and calls it fake, refusing to wear a mask, they should be referred to a practitioner who can help them, she added.

“It is really important to make decisions in our organizations based on statistics and what is coming out as actual trends that are being measured in our workplaces,” Brathwaite said.

Professor Donna-Marie Maynard, a lecturer at the University of the West Indies, presented a study on the psychological vulnerability COVID-19 has caused in the workplace in Barbados. The study used 330 Barbadian workers (80 percent female, 19 percent male). Half of the participants had one or more dependents (children, elderly persons or both). The nine-day study measured the effects of psychological vulnerabilities such as anxiety, depression and loneliness.

“The number of dependents a worker had was positively associated with the extent to which COVID-19 was perceived as a threat,” Maynard said.

The study also showed that older workers took more precautions when COVID-19 came out, and younger workers experienced great levels of loneliness and anxiety.

The study also determined that for younger participants, social media was the preferred source for news, while among older participants it was television.

“The take-home was, the sense of belonging is important. Caribbean people have a history of being very resilient because of hurricanes. The problem is COVID-19 is invisible,” Maynard said.

Dr. Lynda Williams said workplaces should have plans in place for dealing with employees with preexisting conditions and dependents.

“All workplaces should develop protocols on how they will incorporate support for employees with preexisting conditions and women with children,” she said.

Dr. Adanna Grandison, a physician for Cornerstone Med Concierge of Barbados, called COVID-19 the “great revealer.” Distressed people can have cognitive, behavioral, physiological and emotional reactions. Some may experience obsessions such as “hoarding,” where people buy things in excess because of the unknown. Many may recall when toilet paper and other sanitizing products were trending because of fear of running out.

“We saw people not wanting to go out into the community and interact with others, sleep disturbances, psychological changes, loss of appetite, libido, muscular pains, fear, sadness and irritability. These are all normal responses for anyone to have where fear is in place,” she said.

Grandison urged anyone who isn’t coping well with the pandemic or who knows someone who isn’t to seek help. People may result in coping with increasing substance abuse. Be aware of “burn out” or work-related stress, she said. Burn-out looks like procrastination, chronic fatigue, pessimism and loss of satisfaction. All of these are signs and symptoms.

“Take care of yourself; self-care is important,” Grandison said. “Now is the time to focus on lifestyle, exercise and having enough rest. Those who may be working remotely tend to work more hours because of poor time management. Be kind to ourselves and persons around us.”

Addressing mental health is nothing to be ashamed of, the panel said. Virgin Islanders experiencing feelings of anxiety, depression or having suicidal thoughts can visit the V.I. Department of Health website.

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