Belize City, Thurs. Sept. 2, 2021– On Thursday, September 2, the Ministry of Labor hosted a mental health forum, under the theme “Talk Mental Health, Protect Mental Health,” to address the need for mental health interventions. At the forum, which was broadcasted live via Zoom and Facebook Live, there were presentations from a panel of skilled clinicians and professional counselors.
The panel of mental health professionals included Dr. Annel Martinez, a psychiatrist at the Belize Medical Associates; Ms. Sharon Frazer, Chief Magistrate; Ms. Aimee Jex, professional counselor at the Belize Medical Associates; Mr. Nikkita Young, past president of the Belize Chamber of Commerce; Mr. Dean Flowers, the president of the Public Service Union of Belize and Ms. Martine King, the mental health therapist at Mind Health Connect.
Mental health awareness has become an area of heightened focus in light of the toll that the coronavirus pandemic has had on many. Financial hardships caused by the economic downturn have been compounded by fear of the virus itself, anxiety caused by the growing COVID-19 death toll, and the impacts of prolonged social distance and isolation.
Hon. Oscar Requena, the Minister of Rural Transformation, Community Development, Labor and Local Government, said, “The Ministry of Labor is charged with the responsibility to ensure that we have a productive labor force. In order for us to have a productive labor force, we are also very cognizant of the fact that we have to take into account the mental well-being, the physical well-being, the social well-being of all employees.”
Ann Marie Thompson, the Labor Commissioner, also commented on the issue. She said, “The statistics show that one in four, every one in four persons, suffers from mental health or will suffer from mental health within our lifetime. What we want is empathy, understanding, compassion, and one way to get that is to speak about it.” She called on employers and trade union staff to implement employee assistance programs and increase the accessibility to sound mental health programs.
Additionally, the Labor Commissioner also noted the earnest work being done by the Ministry of Public Service. As it currently stands, the ministry offers confidential employee assistance programs — allowing public servants to get assistance in connection with issues affecting them at work or at home. This program offers access to both resources and mental health care.
In noting that everyone is affected by mental wellness issues, Minister Oscar Requena said that mental wellbeing should be prioritized. “Mental health and mental well-being is something that affects everybody. I do not think that public servants or other employees should have any difficulty or should not feel challenged in seeking support because you know mental well-being and mental health is something that all of us should be aspiring and working towards — ensuring that we are not only physically well but that we are also mentally well,” he said.