Caribbean journalists and communicators prepare for challenges of reporting on mental health issues during the COVID-19 pandemic

30 Jul 2021

Participants of the PAHO/CDB/CBU training series received tools to help them ensure informative, responsible, safe and evidence-based coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic, with a focus on mental health-related topics. The training was followed by an award to recognize stories that reflected the topics and key recommendations raised during the series

Bridgetown, Barbados, 30 July 2021 – The impact of COVID-19 on the mental health of Caribbean citizens was highlighted as a major area of concern as hundreds of regional journalists and communicators were recently provided with guidance on reporting responsibly on matters related to the pandemic.

The issue was among several explored as the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), in collaboration with the Caribbean Broadcasting Union (CBU), hosted a virtual training series on ethical reporting during the pandemic. One of the objectives of the four-part series was to provide tools to help communicators provide informative, responsible, safe and evidence-based coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic with a focus on mental health-related topics, despite the proliferation of false information.

Explaining the importance of the training sessions, Jessie Schutt-Aine, Coordinator of the Caribbean Subregional Program at PAHO said: “COVID-19, because it is a new virus and because it is highly contagious, the information and evidence around it has been evolving at a fast pace. This has fuelled rumours and false information, which has spread faster than the outbreak itself. As professionals working in this space, we have the responsibility of keeping up with the evidence and ensuring that the public is properly informed.”

Against that background, the first webinar in the series, ‘Key epidemiological and ethical concepts for reporting during the COVID-19 pandemic, including mental health and psychosocial aspects and tips for self-care’, held on June 18, 2020, provided an introduction to ethical aspects of journalistic coverage.  Journalists were guided on how to interpret basic epidemiological concepts, as well as an overview of mental health issues in the context of COVID-19.

“Our communities are totally reliant on you as communications professionals to provide responsible and evidence-based coverage of the pandemic,” said Deidre Clarendon, Chief of the Social Sector Division of the CDB told the participants. 

In addition to helping the journalists and communicators understand the technical terminology used during outbreaks and epidemics and how to ensure accurate and sensitive reporting on aspects of a pandemic, the webinar included presentations from Caribbean journalists reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic on the ground. Media practitioners like Charmaine Clarke, the Managing Editor of the Jamaica Observer, and Emmanuel Joseph, President of the Barbados Association of Journalists and Media Workers, provided real examples of good practices and the challenges faced in reporting on the pandemic.

Participants of the second session held on July 9, 2020, tackled the role of journalists in addressing COVID-19 stigma and mental health and included recommendations on how to address these issues, an introduction to the guide “Social Stigma associated with COVID-19,” as well as an overview of “Time to Change,” a UK-based campaign that has successfully addressed stigma about mental health. 

During the “Covering Domestic Violence and the COVID-19 Pandemic” webinar on September 2, 2020, the role of journalists and communicators in reporting about domestic violence was examined. Participants received tips on how to use data ethically and efficiently, avoid stigma and discrimination when reporting, ensure technical rigor, protect those communicating and their sources, and prioritize self-care and mental health.

The final session in the series was held on January 14, 2021. “Doing What Matters in Times of Stress for Journalists and Health Communicators” focused on the impact of the work of journalists on their own wellness, particularly during the pandemic. The session was based on the WHO Guide “Doing What Matters in Times of Stress,” which is being adapted by PAHO and CDB for the Caribbean to make it more user friendly and context specific.

A story on mental health in Cayman teens receive PAHO/CDB/CBU award

Following the training series, participants were invited to enter the PAHO/CDB/CBU Awards “Celebrating Responsible Coverage of Mental Health and Psychosocial Support During COVID-19,” giving them the opportunity to demonstrate their ability to cover the pandemic responsibly, using evidence-based information to reflect topics and key recommendations raised during the training.

The contest sought out television, radio and print entries covering topics explored in the webinars, with a US$500 cash prize and a Certificate of Recognition to be won by the most outstanding entry in each of the three categories. Several entries were submitted, and the judges’ report noted that many of them demonstrated potential that should be nurtured with additional training and/or mentoring.

However, Daphne Ewing-Chow, of online news website Loop Cayman, was the sole entrant whose submission met the judges’ criteria. Her article, ‘Mental health professionals voice looming concerns for Cayman teens’ was determined to be the best in the print category by the judging panel, which comprised Denise Shepherd-Johnson, Retired Chief of Communications with UNICEF (chief judge); Britta Baer, PAHO; Lothar Mikulla, CDB, and Enrico Woolford, Director at Capitol News, Guyana.

Ms. Ewing-Chow’s report featured the personal experiences of teens in the Cayman Islands who were feeling the psychological impact of COVID-19 lockdown measures.  More than just highlighting the issue, however, Ms. Ewing-Chow’s article provided insight from experts and offered tips for supporting teenagers struggling with their mental health. This incorporated one of the main aims of the PAHO/CDB/CBU training series – to encourage journalists to provide advice and solutions.

Ms. Ewing-Chow, a Barbadian who moved to the Cayman Islands two years ago, said while she was happy to win the award, it was even more rewarding to have been able to raise awareness and offer solutions to what she believes is just the beginning of a difficult situation.

“I want people to understand that this is a major issue. We in the Caribbean and the English-speaking Caribbean are so lucky that COVID has not hit us from a health perspective as hard as other countries in the world. The mental health fallout that has come out of this has, in my eyes, been of much graver impact than anything else. I think that we are yet to see the impact of this pandemic from a mental health perspective on our youth,” she said. Ms. Ewing-Chow had high praise for the PAHO/CBD/CBU training series. “Definitely from the solutions-based perspective, it added a lot of value,” the journalist said.

The virtual training series was part of a wider PAHO/CDB project “Building individual and social resilience to cope with the impacts of natural hazard events: enhancing capacity for mental health and psychosocial support in disaster management in the Caribbean,” which was designed to build individual and social resilience to cope with the impacts of various shocks. The three-year project began after hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017 and was expanded to address the impacts of COVID-19.


Daniel Epstein 
Nancy Nusser 
Sebastián Oliel
Ashley Baldwin 
Nadia Peimbert-Rappaport