By: Meshach Pierre and Vidyaratha Kissoon
The world continues to deal with the pandemic in different ways. In July 2020, we convened an online conversation about mental health in the pandemic and Guyana’s 2020 elections limbo. We were glad to host another conversation on the afternoon of 30th May, 2021. People joined us from Guyana and around the world.
“It’s okay not to be okay”
It was clear from the discussion that we all had a variety of experiences with the pandemic, and dealt with them in very different ways. People reflected on the positives, negatives, and all shades in between, of the pandemic and all it brought with it, such as lockdowns, social isolation, and/or loss of loved ones. People had diverse experiences with mental health including: doing therapy and being prescribed medication to deal with mental illness; accessing therapy when it could be afforded; deciding ways to manage without medication; and supporting others to deal with the difficult times.
A student shared that it was tough adjusting to the online school, being anxious about assignments, challenges obtaining and not being able to understand content. Some teachers also had difficulties with the various online platforms and communicating across them. There was little discussion between parents, students, and teachers about how to deal with some of these issues, which made things more difficult. Many students did not get a chance to talk about their feelings.
Being at home
Some people were already working from home so being at home was not a challenge except when other family members were now home 24/7. This was difficult for many people and some people felt they could not talk about it because it might look bad to say that you can’t handle or were now learning to adapt to being around your loved ones all the time.
Staying busy and active
Many people shared that they found gardening to be helpful. One woman shared after the session that a potted plant inside the house could be helpful. Other people said they found yoga, meditation and other kinds of exercise helpful as a coping mechanism. People spoke about spending time outside. There was general encouragement to stay in touch with nature, in whichever way possible.
People talked about being more intentional about checking in with friends and loved ones, even with people who might seem strong on the outside. One person said they felt the need to make sure there was connection with people who lived alone or who had suffered loss. We talked about only checking in if you were ready to listen. We spoke about the importance of active listening when offering support. The Samaritans UK offers a free resource on how to listen more actively.
“Look after yourself before you look after others”
We talked about the difficulties faced by many people who had to look after children and others at home and could not find time to look after themselves. The group talked about self care and how it was important for everyone. This was especially true for those who were caregivers. We were reminded that you cannot adequately help someone when you are suffering yourself. There was a discussion about concern for health care workers and their own self care.
We talked about seeking help and the challenges with seeking help. One person shared that she could not afford to continue the therapy sessions. We discussed the difficulties of accessing good mental health care and the difficulties with the public health system and mental health. We discussed that it was important to try to connect with the resources available and then move from there. We also talked about how there were issues about confidentiality and the accountability for the quality of mental health services in the public sector.
In the last half an hour, the discussion touched on the stigma associated with mental illness in Guyana and how this prevented people from seeking help. There was more need to take the shame from mental illness and community support for people who are seeking support for their mental health.
“Thanks to everyone for sharing. It’s a relief to hear that we’ve all had similar good and bad experiences with the pandemic.”
Everyone agreed that it was good to talk and share experiences. Many people thanked us for hosting the space to do so. The sharing and discussion went on for one hour beyond the planned time. It was all welcome, and everyone’s presence was valued, regardless of whether they shared or just listened. If you were there, thank you for coming. If you weren’t, thank you for reading.
The Mental Health Unit at the Ministry of Health has a 24 hour hotline 655-7233 .
The office numbers are 2261405, 2261407, 2261402 . The public health services are free.
There is also a publicly contributed list of the mental health resources available in Guyana at: https://www.facebook.com/notes/documenting-mental-health-resources-in-guyana/some-mental-health-resources-in-guyana/171658783505271/