Students in the west benefit from mental health ‘play day’

STUDENTS from several schools in western Jamaica benefited from a child and adolescent mental health play day at Harmony Beach Park in Montego Bay, St James, on Tuesday.

The event was hosted by the Western Regional Health Authority (WRHA), in celebration of Child Month, to emphasise the positive effects of play on a child’s growth and development.

Students from infant to the secondary level were engaged in myriad activities, including art therapy, ring and tabletop games, vision boarding, ‘dancercise’ and health talks.

Speaking with JIS News, director of mental health and substance abuse services in the Ministry of Health and Wellness Dr Kevin Goulbourne underscored the importance of playtime for children, noting that it helps to develop socio-emotional skills.

“It has benefits towards socialisation where children learn to socialise and work with other persons. Verbal skills are important where they develop those skills. It also has benefits in terms of their emotional well-being and make them feel better about themselves. There are also physical benefits from it and because there are physical benefits, this helps with their learning,” said Dr Goulbourne.

He reminded parents and educators that with proper play intervention, children will grow and develop mentally, socially, physically, and emotionally, which will redound to their overall well-being.

Dr Goulbourne said the children were very enthusiastic about the day of play and immersed themselves in the activities.

“I have been with them, and they have been very enthusiastic. They have been participating, and they seem to be learning and they seem to be appreciative of the event,” added Dr Goulbourne.

Guidance counsellor at Merlene Ottey High School in Hanover, Ingrid Johnson, lauded the initiative, describing it as a tool that supports students’ health and wellness.

“I thought it would be a good way for them to participate, help them to de-stress and socialise with other persons, because it helps to reduce other situations that they may be going through. It is a good experience. Just watching them take part in the activities and seeing the joy on their faces, for me, it is a fulfilling one,” said Johnson.

Catherine Hall Primary and Infant School Acting Principal Kay-Esther Malcolm welcomed the event, saying it was a pleasure seeing students being engaged in meaningful play, having been deprived of social activities for two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think it is of great significance because we are just coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic and the children are still accustomed to being on the inside. They were not doing a lot of social activities or recreation, so this is a nice thing for them, to come and enjoy a play day that will benefit them emotionally and physically,” said Malcolm.

Grade-nine student at Merlene Ottey High School Samoya Graham said she used the day of play to de-stress before her upcoming examinations and engaged in play, which she had not done for some time.

“I am here to have fun in Child Month and since exams are next month, it is nice to get a breather and to clear your mind and have a little fun before all the stress comes down. The experience was good. We came and we did fun activities, and we won prizes — stuff that I haven’t done in a long time,” she said.