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Taking the lead on COVID-19 mental health talks

Posted in Alumni Profiles

Dr. Jimmy Obed, Australia Awards Scholarships Alumni and Senior Psychiatry Registrar, Vanuatu Central Hospital, leads on Mental Health Psycho-Social Support Sub-Cluster, COVID-19 Response

Dr. Jimmy Obed is Vanuatu’s only Ni-Vanuatu psychiatrist. He completed his studies at the University of Melbourne in 2019 and is now the Senior Psychiatry Registrar heading up the Mental Health Team at the Vila Central Hospital on Efate.

In the wake of the country’s response to COVID-19, Dr. Jimmy now also heads the Mental Health Psycho-Social Support (MHPSS) sub-cluster within the Ministry of Health and takes an active lead on giving out key messages and support relating to mental health issues.

‘We have even been involved with those who have been repatriated and quarantined, as mental health is a significant part of this too, when being confined means time away from families and this adds a lot of stress and anxiety to people’ explains Dr. Jimmy.

The team also runs information sessions at various institutions to educate people on recognising the signs and impacts of mental health on individuals, and how to best use the resources they have available around them to cope, as well as when to refer them to a specialist.

Dr. Jimmy believes that more mental health awareness, education and advocacy is needed at the community level, particularly to improve people’s understanding of mental health and its importance in times of crisis.

The team has also been working with healthcare team leaders and health workers under their responsibility to take care of their own wellbeing in preparation for COVID-19. Furthermore, the team has met with the carers of people with mental health conditions, to share experience and knowledge on how to provide further support to patients in response to the global pandemic.

Dr. Jimmy says that the studies he received under the Australia Awards scholarship has broadened his knowledge and perspective and have significantly impacted his clinical work.

The training I received while on scholarship also included some management and administrative skills, so once I came back, these skills have assisted in managing my own work and the pressure of my current workload’ Dr. Jimmy further explains.

Dr. Jimmy continues to receive support and advice from the alumni network from the University of Melbourne which includes health representatives from Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific region.

During this global crisis, there’s a limited pool of support from in-country, so I am grateful for this alumni network and other fellow mental health professionals in the region where we can share ideas, perspectives and feedback to support each other’ Dr. Jimmy adds.

Dr. Jimmy states that mental health has always been an important issue, but Vanuatu has not paid much attention to it in the past.

People are now beginning to acknowledge mental health and the psychosocial impacts of mental health. And especially with COVID-19 there are a lot of communal, social and economic issues that will impact people’s mental health. Therefore, mental health is important because people will have to learn and be supported to be able to cope, as all these social issues will put pressure on people’s coping skills and strategies and their ability to manage their lives in different situations and crisis’ states Dr. Jimmy.

You can follow Dr. Jimmy’s team on their Facebook page – Mental Health Vanuatu for key messages and updates on the work they are doing in country.