28 July 2021— Adolescent health and wellness have been thrusted into sharp and indispensable focus across the Caribbean region since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic. For healthcare professionals such as Ciladelle Glen, the average medical routine has been far from normal during this ever-changing period. Utilizing and directing available resources to children and their parents has been of paramount importance for this Rotarian and graduate of the United Kingdom’s University of Northampton. It has been a key element in keeping families safe, calm and hopeful during a time of uncertainty, fear and unease that has swept through Caribbean communities.
As an essential worker familiar with adolescent-friendly environments such as centres as well as health & wellness clinics, Glen has always underscored the importance of and integrated recommendations for Psychological First Aid (PFA) as a strategic frontline step for self-learning for professionals and the wider society. Her impassioned work ethic is well-known among her peers at the Ministry of Health’s Adolescent Health Department, where she currently works as a Coordinator to shape the development and implementation of programs and services to address adolescent health across her homeland of Guyana. “I work a lot with adolescents, and they are one of the target groups that are constantly left out when it comes to mental health,” the 2018/2019 Chevening Scholar Alumna noted.
Lamenting the lack of focus of resources towards this demographic, Glen, who recently completed her master’s degree in Child & Adolescent Mental Health at the University of Guyana, stressed on the importance of paying particular attention to the youth during the pandemic.
“This is the population that would be severely affected because they are not accustomed to dealing with the emotions that comes with certain changes. Children weren’t able to cope well during the first stages of the lockdown, because they were accustomed to socializing with their friends, being in the classrooms, working with each other – and with the blink of an eye, they had to change their entire lifestyle,” she explained.
In Glen’s professional opinion, sibling rivalry, partner-to-partner and parental-child conflict rose tersely to the forefront of social challenges during the lockdown period for children over the age of 10, largely due to more time being spent at home which resulted in a sudden change in domestic dynamics. “Kids also spoke about being anxious and afraid – about the media reports on high death rates in the United States, United Kingdom and our neighbouring Brazil, as well as delays in their academic journeys since a lot of them had to stop school for a period of time. Those preparing for major examinations such as CXC were worried about the classroom time needed to prepare, while some University students expressed concern about their ability to graduate – which would not only affect their academic journey, but also their careers and entering the workforce,” Glen detailed with great consternation.
Through PAHO’s Virtual Campus of Public Health, Glen joined the ranks of thousands of healthcare professionals to participate in the 10-hour Psychological First Aid (PFA) course that applies the tools to provide suitable, initial and critical responses to Guyanese citizens experiencing psychological distress after a crisis situation. With over 550,000 persons already benefitting across Guyana’s health facilities where training participants work, Glen can testify to the usefulness of the course, and has already implemented key methods in her day-to-day professional methodologies . “I really liked the part of the training that reminded us to prepare, look, listen and link. The PFA course taught me that it is very important for us to use those 4 critical action points because children would not just be experiencing mental health issues, but other social issues that require specific support and resources,” she outlined.
Glen, whose experiential base is rooted in the arena of Social Work, maintained that the Psychological First Aid Course has been of tremendous value for frontline workers such as herself in preparing to connect participants to the adequate resources that they need. As the Founder of “Desert Flower – Guyana” – a Mental Health initiative that seeks to create awareness in the area of Children and Adolescent Mental Health with the provision of psychosocial support to children and adolescents – she staunchly advocates for the PFA program to continue beyond the pandemic.
She noted that, “the training is designed in such a way that it’s not just for healthcare and social services workers, so it should be something that continues because it will help to prepare the population and make them ready in the event where another pandemic happens, or another crisis on a community or country level.”
She is of the view that this Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) training can also be used to help parents who are helping their children cope during a crisis, elucidating that there are a number of benefits in looking at the module as it relates to less dysfunction and positive family reinforcement.
“Adolescent orientation is an important step in recognizing human need. This kind of aid is designed in such a way that we will be equipped to deal with situations as they come: not only when something happens.”
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