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Tuesday 16 July 2019
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Walk in and deal with your stress

NCRHA's deputy chairman Elvin Edwards cuts the ribbon
to officially open the NCRHA's Stress Relief Centre in Chaguanas. First row from left is Renee Pilgrim, NCRHA facilities manager - Chaguanas Cluster,  Ashvini Nath, Manager - Mental Health Services at Ministry of Health, NCRHA Director Yvonne Bullen-Smith and NCRHA's chief operations officer Stacy Thomas-Lewis. Members of the clinical team in the second row are clinical psychologists' Cavelle Delfosse, Patricia Lee-Wah Cooper and Samidha Maharaj.
NCRHA's deputy chairman Elvin Edwards cuts the ribbon to officially open the NCRHA's Stress Relief Centre in Chaguanas. First row from left is Renee Pilgrim, NCRHA facilities manager - Chaguanas Cluster, Ashvini Nath, Manager - Mental Health Services at Ministry of Health, NCRHA Director Yvonne Bullen-Smith and NCRHA's chief operations officer Stacy Thomas-Lewis. Members of the clinical team in the second row are clinical psychologists' Cavelle Delfosse, Patricia Lee-Wah Cooper and Samidha Maharaj.

SUZANNE ROSS,* 61, says she is not a happy woman right now because of stress. Happiness for Ross is peace of mind, but she is being robbed of it by an ongoing familial land dispute which spans 39 years.

When Ross is stressed she would do things she does not normally do, say things she does not normally say and even cry. The stress, also, results in chest pains.

Stress, she added, makes her “a totally different person.”

“I does feel like I am going mad. I don’t want to hear anybody. I don’t want to see anybody and when I am stressed I do not sleep. I just go, just work, work, work, find something to do,” she said.

To ease her stress, Ross would listen to music or even drink a beer. She prefers to “go hungry than have stress.”

Ross is not alone in her battle with stress.

A 2018 report entitled Stress: Are We Coping from the London Mental Health Foundation found “that over the past year, almost three quarters (74 per cent) of people have at some point felt so stressed that they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope.”

The study also found from a sample size of 4,619 respondents that “women report more stress than men (89 per cent vs 76 per cent). This may be the case both in general, and in the workplace. Certain ethnic groups also experience more work-related stress (particularly African-Caribbean women), which has been linked to reported incidents of racism.”

In TT, the North Central Regional Health Authority (NCRHA) opened its first stress relief centre on March 16.

The centre’s purpose, psychiatrist Prof Gerard Hutchinson, told Newsday in e-mailed responses, is “to provide a mental health service that caters to the community that allows individuals who feel that they are not coping with the stress of everyday life to have an opportunity to talk through what the problem might be and what they could do about it.” He said at the centre people would work with a mental health professional such as a mental health nurse, psychologist or psychiatrist, depending on the severity of the problem.

“The focus will, therefore, be to identify the core issues related to the stressors including one’s interpretation of it and response to it in order to find appropriate solutions,” he said.

The centre has a team of nurses, psychologists, and psychiatrists, who, Hutchinson said, will screen, counsel and develop programmes “to help people manage these stress-related problems.”

At the centre people will access social and life skills, psychotherapy, and medication, group, creative and activity therapy. The centre focuses on self-harm, trauma, workplace stress, relationship conflict, and parent-child problem. It was developed, said NCRHA CEO Davlin Thomas, because a number of people came to the emergency department because they had been self-harming.

NCRHA CEO Davlin Thomas.

“We realised that one of the issues related to mental health is the idea of stigma. We have had a number of people present with self-harm in our Emergency Department. From a counter-intuitive perspective, to engage the core need we needed to do things differently, to present a soft way for people to assess, long before it denigrates into a place where it becomes harmful.

“So we started a rapid prototype and called it the Stress Relief Centre and so people would come into the centre. We have a psychiatrist with the support staff and so on and those people provide bonafide assistance.”

Thomas said the authority utilises as a general strategy a systems approach to its improvement. which means: “We really are not looking at the problem itself, but the wider picture, the holistic sense of what is happening.”

Thomas said the centre services people who are under high stress and are worried about something “and have started to deal with it.”

Before its opening, the centre existed as a prototype and saw at least 19 people accessing its services. Since then, Thomas said the authority has seen a “considerable decline” in its self-harm patients. The initial prototype was launched six months ago and would operate one day a week “just to see how it would go and to see if people would access it using the frame that they generated.”

Thomas added that the prototype was developed in collaboration with Hutchinson, who operates out of the University of the West Indies and the NCRHA. During its trial phase, Thomas said on the days the centre operated “19 new people would show up.

“So we knew then there was a real need out there. What manifested on Saturday is that we have moved from prototype to the launch,” he said. He added that the prototype was bolstered by psychologists being associated with the unit as well as other support staff.

“Anyone is just free to come in and if you’re dealing with something you can talk to someone who is free to engage at the highest level. There is no issue now of meeting with that person and being referred to someone else. You just deal with somebody at the level who can engage you,” he added.

Hutchinson said since the centre’s trial and eventual opening, over 300 people have been seen and supported Thomas’ statement that the centre was devised “as a walk-in as well as referral centre so it makes accessing care more immediate as well as catering to queries, guidance, and linkages with other mental health providers.” He added that the reasons why people commonly come to the centre are self-harm thoughts or actions, relationship problems, workplace stress, adolescent anxiety, substance abuse, and domestic violence.

Asked about the effects of stress in TT, Hutchinson said there are “major and minor stressors.

Economic/financial; parent/child disconnect, especially in this digital social media age; widespread exposure to trauma and violence and abuse which is evident in the high rates of self-harm like cutting, the issues being raised by the Children’s Authority and the Children’s Court; delinquency, homelessness, domestic violence, depression and suicide; murder/suicide.”

He added that there are plans to open similar centres along the East-West Corridor.

There are also plans to incorporate music, drama and art therapies over the next two to three months at the centre. The centre is at Endeavour Road, Chaguanas, and is held on a Monday and Thursday from 8 am-2 pm, Thomas said.

For more info: 672-4357 or 665-4423.

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