MENTAL HEALTH CARE AND THE INTEGRATION OF DIGITAL COMMUNICATION
MENTAL HEALTH CARE AND THE INTEGRATION OF DIGITAL COMMUNICATION
TO STRENGTHEN SOCIAL RESILIENCE AGAINST COVID-19
In times of difficulty and uncertainty, such as the one currently generated due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, the importance of being healthy is more present. On this occasion and due to the challenging nature of the current situation, not only does physical health appear relevant, but mental health is also beginning to be addressed at multiple levels.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Pan American Health Organization have warned about this aspect and generated a set of guidelines to address mental health care and the psychosocial dynamics that the current health emergency generates. The WHO/PAHO recognizes that “authorities around the world are acting to contain the outbreak of COVID-19. However, this time of crisis is generating stress throughout the population.” (PAHO, March 2020, Retrieved from: https://www.paho.org/es/documentos/consideraciones-psicosociales-salud-m...).
Many of the recommendations of these organizations are associated with basic self-care measures, which not only include the necessary actions to avoid contagion or receive adequate care in case of contracting the virus, but are also aimed at addressing emotional balance and mental health. .
Among the most outstanding indications are elements such as: limit the time of exposure to news on social networks, only consult official and authorized sources, maintain telephone contact (or by other digital means) with family and friends, avoid the stigmatization of people with the illness, support others, and spend time identifying, connecting, and amplifying positive and uplifting stories.
At these times it is also essential to have support possibilities, to be able to talk about what we feel, share experiences and visions, contain our anxieties and fears. The digital communication media today give us the possibility to meet and open a conversation about what we are going through in the current times, constituting a support of great value.
There are various initiatives throughout the region and the world, generated by individuals and organizations, to provide emotional support and containment, psychological first aid, accompaniment, and tools to strengthen individual, group, and community resilience.
This is the case of many entrepreneurs and social leaders of the CAHI Fellows Network, who are active throughout Central America providing solutions and taking decisive action to care for people recovering from COVID-19, prevent infections, care for health personnel, strengthen care systems and provide timely information to the population.
In the line of mental health, the work of two organizations with complementary missions stands out, it is the team of teen smart (Costa Rica and entrepreneurship Your Counseling (Guatemala), who provide their support services for all of Latin America.
Uncertainty and mental health
For Víctor Juárez, CAHI Fellow founder of Your Counseling, the emergency generated by COVID-19 has boosted everyone's awareness of the importance of taking care of mental health. He comments that “5 months ago it was a difficult topic to approach, not all people accepted its relevance; now that has changed, everyone understands that it is essential to take care of mental health and they are more willing to talk to a specialist.”
Adriana Gómez, CAHI Fellow director of teen smart, adds that “no one was prepared for the pandemic, we have all been surprised and we are dealing with high levels of uncertainty, but in the face of that we deeply believe in the resilience of our team and people.”
Two ideas of the current global situation stand out: the first is that the affectation on mental health and the psychosocial impact of this event is as relevant as the effect on physical health, constituting a vital aspect to be attended to, to sustain and promote the overcoming the crisis and developing new scenarios in all sectors of society; the second is that the effect of the emergency is forcing us to recognize the unity between the mental, emotional and physical state, as areas that must be cared for in an integrated manner, both individually and in the community and social.
Although these approaches are not new to social psychologists and other specialists, it is a significant change that the general population is aware of this and is looking for options to achieve greater internal balance and strengthen themselves in the face of uncertainty.
CAHI Fellows Víctor Juárez and Adriana Gómez recognize that the possibility of digital connection is a safe and fast way for the population to access mental health services. Although there is a gap in access to information and communication technologies, however, there is currently a high penetration of mobile devices in all sectors of the population of Latin America and the Caribbean.
This is what the initiatives of Teen Smart (from Costa Rica) and Tu Consejería (from Guatemala) are committed to, direct and simple access through mobile phones, to receive support from mental health specialists, training in key and valuable information, which allows people to make informed decisions and achieve greater internal balance.
Adriana tells us that “At times like this it is very important to have knowledge, but you also have to work on attitudes and motivations to achieve behavioral changes. We are focused on preventing risk behaviors, promoting life skills in personal leadership.”
The Teen Smart approach is comprehensive, aimed at adolescents and young people between the ages of 10 and 24, considering the training process on topics such as life skills, prevention of risk behaviors, safe Internet browsing, violence prevention, relationships partner and sexual and reproductive health.
These trainings, like all the support and accompaniment services they offer, are completely free. The Teen Smart team perceives that at this time the service is more pertinent and necessary, because it requires the generation of many changes in the behavior of young people to face the current emergency and the crisis that is being generated as a result. Adriana adds that "we know that they need information appropriate to their age, that they require motivation and strengthening of values to make decisions, that they expect accompaniment that judges them, open to listening to their feelings and promoting critical thinking."
The Tu Consejería venture moves along a similar line, providing support services with specialists via instant messaging (chat). This is a project that democratizes access to professional mental health services, facilitating free and very low-cost access, initially for young people, but currently open to anyone who needs it.
Víctor, founder and director of this project, identified that many young people in the country and the region experience low self-esteem, which makes them make decisions that sometimes go against their own well-being. In his research and reflection process, he understood that it was important to accompany these young people in a process of change, self-assessment and personal care; he identified that the best way to provide this support was contact via instant messaging.
“Sometimes the subject of mental health is approached as taboo, it is stigmatized, but it must be a priority for everyone and receiving support from a professional must become something natural and accessible to everyone. That is why I brought together psychologists, psychotherapists and other specialists to provide this care, with a protocol that is strictly followed, guaranteeing the confidentiality and safety of all,” explains Victor Juarez.
Tu Consejería has developed experiences of attention to the refugee and migrant population (especially returnees), in addition to other traditionally marginalized and invisible sectors. Since 2004, Teen Smart has provided services to strengthen the resilience and promote the development of young people, providing training services, dissemination of valuable information, advice and support, as well as mental health care.
These projects are an example of how the combination of a powerful vision, the approach to a clearly identified social problem, the integration of human capacities with the use of technology, can transform realities and provide support in situations as challenging as the current one. , strengthening the response capacity of young people and the entire population against COVID-19.
Some considerations for the future emerge from the conversation with these CAHI Fellows. We believe it is important to reflect them here:
- Mental health is one of the priorities, now during the emergency, to face the crisis and the deep change processes that are required in people, communities and society in general.
- Many young people face the loss of educational continuity, the significant decrease in family income and the decrease in employment opportunities. Faced with this reality, greater accompaniment is required, integrating tools to think creatively, generate innovative educational alternatives and generate innovative opportunities.
- We must continue to think about the development of people, mental and emotional health care, psychosocial approaches, in which technologies are an important support point for remote care in sometimes marginalized areas, as well as access these services at a very low cost.
- As never before, interdisciplinarity and cooperation between various initiatives and organizations are required today. In the case of Teen Smart and Tu Consejería, the combination of technology specialists, programmers, mental health specialists, advisors, entrepreneurs, expert educators in peaceful coexistence and violence prevention, among many others, is proving essential.
In this way, many paradigms are falling and allowing agents of social change like them to take a step forward, offering alternatives that give hope in the face of the challenges that, as a global society, we currently face.