The impact of the 2017 hurricanes on the British Virgin Islands highlighted the need to improve mental health and psychosocial support in disaster management among health and community workers, as well as the general population. In this context, the Ministry of Health and the Caribbean Development Bank, with the support of PAHO/WHO, conducted an intervention in 2019 to support the recovery and build resilience to confront any future threats.
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck the British Virgin Islands (BVI) in March 2020, psychosocial and mental health needs on the ground persisted and intensified, and the project was adapted to reduce suffering and promote the mental health and psychosocial well-being of people affected by the pandemic and disasters.
A key component of this adaptation was a series of webinars designed to improve the knowledge and skills needed to cope with mental health problems during the pandemic and its inherent challenges. The participants consisted of shelter managers, health workers, clinical staff, parents, teachers, and people from the British Virgin Islands.
The main themes addressed were: Coping with COVID-19 stress during the hurricane season; Basic psychological skills; Raising children during the pandemic; Improving health workers’ mental health; and Resilience: The science and practice. The BVI-PAHO project conducted a needs assessment to obtain information about the need for information and knowledge about the COVID-19 pandemic.
The preliminary results revealed that most of the 150 people who completed the evaluation needed information on strategies for managing stress. The project promoted the local capacity building for mental health promotion and response and the prevention of mental disorders in disaster management in the health sector, other agencies, and the community at large. Trainers, supervisors, and community workers were given mhGAP training.
Other priorities were to promote community resilience and develop action plans for community emergency preparedness and response; conduct media campaigns; promote social support groups through WhatsApp and other social media; expand the psychosocial support helpline, etc. Monitoring and evaluation tools were also developed.
In designing the project, training of trainers was emphasized as fundamental for promoting the program’s sustainability and ensuring that the country would have a cohort of trained personnel who could apply their skills and tools not only in natural disasters but also in new crises and emergencies.
Another urgent matter was the need to explicitly include gender approaches in training and evaluation. An effective gender approach would not only ensure women’s participation but also involve men, with activities tailored to the problems affecting each group. To ensure the sustainability of community resilience plans/groups, national frameworks and coordination mechanisms are needed to facilitate these processes.
Finally, it was seen that the impact of disasters on mental health lasts much longer than on physical health and that preparedness interventions for building and maintaining community resilience are fundamental.
For more information, please visit https://www.paho.org/en/bounce-back-stronger-bvi, https://youtu.be/faTJStTpQ4I.
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