Re-Opening Schools: Shared Perspectives on Navigating Mental Health During COVID-19

by HCC

The fifth webinar of our special COVID-19 and NCDs in the Caribbean series: ‘Re-opening Schools: Shared perspectives on navigating mental health during COVID-19 in partnership with the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), was held on September 25th, 2020 it focused on the major mental health concerns of key actors, namely, students, teachers and parents as a new school year, comprising of both in-person and virtual classes, begins across the region. These key actors along with epidemiological and mental health experts shared perspectives on strategies that can be used to support positive mental health wellbeing in this new school setting. Almost 300 participants took part in this very informative webinar.


On March 27th 2020, the HCC published an Open Letter to CARICOM Heads calling for ‘urgent action to protect those living with NCDs from COVID-19.  On March 31st, 2020, the HCC released the HCC COVID-19 Advocacy and Communication Strategy to guide HCC advocacy efforts and communication during the COVID-19 pandemic. The strategy has five primary objectives: increase knowledge about COVID-19 and NCDs; promote access to, and consumption of, healthy foods; promote access to essential medicines and treatments for people living with NCDs (PLWNCDs; promote good mental and physical health; and engage young people as key players in the COVID-19 response. The strategy aims to contribute to universal health and universal health coverage (UH/UHC) and reduction of inequities, in support of achieving the sustainable development goals, specifically the prevention, treatment and promotion of mental health and wellbeing (target 3.4).

The webinar series fulfils two of the four strategies identified to deliver on the objectives of the HCC COVID-19 Communication Strategy: information dissemination and strengthening of civil society organisation (CSO) communication networks for information and experience sharing. The webinars will target a number of stakeholder groups, foremost of which are HCC CSO member organisations and PLWNCDs. Secondary target groups include regional policymakers and technical personnel across various ministries (including health, education, finance, trade etc.), health care providers, members of academia, national, regional and international partners, the general public including students and the private sector.

The webinar series aims to build advocacy capacity for the promotion of initiatives and policies that support the long-term health of all, particularly vulnerable persons, PLWNCDs and children and young people. The webinars will leverage the expertise of diverse stakeholders and partners including civil society actors, technical officers, academics, health care practitioners, and youth to bring awareness to the varied and complex dimensions of COVID-19 and NCDs in the Caribbean in order to guide the multisectoral approach needed to pave the way forward. They will showcase the experiences and lessons learned thus far and highlight good practices in the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of these efforts. Current initiatives, solutions and policy recommendations will be discussed to ensure that we respond effectively to the pandemic and “build back better” by strengthening our whole-of-society response in shaping the COVID-19 health legacy.

PAHO/HCC Relationship

The HCC has been an NGO in Official Relations with PAHO since 2012 and over this period we have had two joint Letters of Agreement (LoAs) which have supported the civil society capacity building in the area of childhood obesity prevention, identification, prevention, mitigation and management of conflict of interest in NCD policymaking, and reducing the harmful use of alcohol.  As part of our Official Relations we have a joint workplan which covers a number of areas across the spectrum of NCDs and their risk factors.

The HCC is pleased to continue our collaboration with PAHO in support of Caribbean Wellness Week 2020 under the banner of PAHO’s regional Stronger Together mental health campaign. The theme of CWD 2020 is mental health in the context of the coronavirus pandemic.  Together the HCC and PAHO have produced a Mental Health PSA and a Get Moving for Mental Health Exercise Video using the PAHO Stronger Together campaign Jingle. This joint webinar is the final piece of this collaboration.


The objective of this webinar, “Re-opening Schools: Shared perspectives on navigating mental health during COVID-19” was to explore the mental health concerns of key actors within schools as they reopen across the region and to discuss strategies to cultivate school ecosystems that support positive mental health and well-being.

The COVID-19 pandemic has radically transformed schooling as we know it – largely shutting down traditional face to face education and forcing children, teachers and parents to struggle with an entirely new world of virtual learning. Significant uncertainty still looms as educational institutions across the Caribbean prepare for the 20/21 academic year.   Schools that will reopen may consider shift systems to reduce class sizes, staggering drop off times and mealtimes, moving classes to temporary spaces or outdoors and blending face to face and virtual learning – all of which can dramatically affect how students will learn, play and interact with their peers, teachers and parents. These changes are compounded by the residual emotions linked to the unprecedented COVID-19 lockdown which interrupted the school term preceding summer holidays and left many students, parents and teachers mentally exhausted and frustrated.

We are already beginning to see the negative mental health impacts of the pandemic on students and teachers in the school community. Guidance counselors designated to provide in-school support may be ill-equipped to handle the anticipated rise in mental health issues experienced by children. Additional training for guidance counselors may become an emerging priority to ensure they can adequately respond to these new challenges and provide extended support to parents and caregivers.

Parents and caregivers have been highlighted as key actors in this new school system serving their role as a parent while also navigating virtual learning / homeschooling and providing holistic support for their children during this time.

All of these challenges are further exacerbated for children living with disabilities who very often require face to face, hands on support from highly trained professionals.  The loss of this specialized care is having devastating emotional impacts on the children, families and their teachers.

This is a new and challenging space for many, and discussions that highlight concerns and guide strategies that will support positive mental health and wellbeing are critical.


Through a guided discussion, panellists will explored the following key themes:

  1. Overview of COVID-19 protocols within the school context and mental health concerns that may manifest in the “classroom”.
  2. Sharing student, parent, teacher/ guidance counsellor experiences with COVID-19 and the school environment.
  3. Navigating student, parent and teacher/guidance counsellor’s concerns related to adjusting to the new school environment (virtual, face to face learning or the blended approach).
  4. Strategies, tools and policy-level recommendations to support mental health resilience in a new school ecosystem.


Dr. Elisa Prieto
Caribbean Subregional NCD and Mental Health Advisor, PAHO

Mr. Pierre Cooke Jr
HCC Youth Technical Advisor



Re-opening Schools: Shared perspectives on navigating mental health during COVID-19

Dr. Eldonna Boisson
Epidemiologist PAHO Advisor, Disease Surveillance and Epidemiology 

Re-opening Schools: Shared perspectives on navigating mental health during COVID-19

Dr. Claudina Cayetano
Psychiatrist, PAHO Mental Health Regional Advisor (NMH/MH) 

Re-opening Schools: Shared perspectives on navigating mental health during COVID-19

Ms. Harriet Liddie
Counsellor, Antiguan Ministry of Education, Science & Technology 

Re-opening Schools: Shared perspectives on navigating mental health during COVID-19

Mrs. Nekeisha Reid

Re-opening Schools: Shared perspectives on navigating mental health during COVID-19

Ms. Jara Emtage-Cave
Student, 6th Form Graduate

See the promotional flyer here.


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