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Good Mental Health Vital to Coping with COVID-19

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-           Nigel Akuani


Port Moresby: A Mental Health Talk focused at helping people cope with the effects of COVID-19, was held on Wednesday 10th June from 10.30am to 12pm, at the Catholic Bishops Conference Headquarters Gordons.


The talk had as its keynote speaker Dr. Umadevi Ambihaipahar OBE, a pioneer in the field of mental health in PNG, having driven mental health services at the national level since 1999. Her session dwelled on methods essential to coping with impacts and stress of COVID-19, overcoming stress and anxiety, importance of a good mental spiritual and physical health, safety precautions and advise for adults and children, health centres, personnel and programs in place for help and support.


74 participants attended the talk session that included students and teachers, councillors, Priests and Religious, lay persons, health workers, care givers, media personal and members of the public. Participating schools included Don Bosco Technical School (DBTS), Don Bosco Technological Institute (DBTI), La Salle Technical College, and St Charles Lwanga Secondary School (SCLSS). The talk was moderated by Fr Ambrose Pereira sdb, Social Communications Secretary of the CBCPNGSI.


In her address she told of how the COVID-19 pandemic was a devastating global crisis that caused stress, pain and grief to many, and emphasized the essential role positive mental health played in coping with its effects. “COVID-19 is a crisis, but also a window of opportunity and optimism for humanity to reflect and build its way out from, and emerge stronger than ever before,” she said.


Dr Ambihaipahar explained that exercising was beneficial to the mental state and it helped the human body release endorphin hormones that relieved stress and boosted happiness. “When you have a positive emotion that is accompanied by frequent exercise, the endorphin in the body increases and that significantly reduces the stress and pain level experienced in both mind and body,” she said.


She highlighted the unfavourable conditions caused by the lockdown that was felt by many children and students attending schools and advised parents and guardians to be caring and understanding during this period. “Our children and students also experience stress due to this ‘New Normal’ and it is our duty to show love and special support in the way we approach and listen to them,” she stated. 


Mr Paul Harricknen, President of Catholic Professionals Society, advocated the need in spreading true and factual information and advised people to become critical listeners to avoid fake news that often-spiked fear and widespread panic.


Dr Stephanie Deklin, a Medical Officer working at the Rita Flyyn Isolation Facility in Boroko, raised the issue of stigmatization experienced by COVID-19 POIs (Person of Interest) and how it affected a person’s mental health and physical wellbeing.


Ms Ruby Matane, a Student Councillor of DBTI questioned the current mental health capacity of locals about COVID-19 and if there was a framework in place to address the issue. Brenth Karol, Grade Eleven of SCLSS, wanted to know how the rural population could also be included and assisted in addressing their mindful worries of COVID-19. Grade Eleven student of DBTS Gabutu, Joseph Budo, said that PNG was unique and spared from COVID-19 because of its citizens’ fear of God.


On behalf of the students, teachers and all present, Mr Leo Paraha, Animator of DBTS, expressed his gratitude for the valuable and lifesaving knowledge imparted by Dr Ambihaipahar.


Sr Susan Imperio of the Canosian Daughters of Charity, said the final prayer that formally ended the program. Participants were all treated to light snacks and light refreshments afterwards.

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