Chatting with Digital Strategist Keron Rose

Wellness and Mental Health

In this conversation about wellness and mental health, Online Business Strategist Keron Rose commented that the Caribbean region has a very low digital presence when searches are done for mental health. This low presence suggests that platforms related to mental health and wellness are not optimizing their websites for inclusion in data searches.

SEO Optimization

From a technical standpoint, search engine optimization (SEO) is important in the field of mental health and wellness because the results can provide insights into the questions people are asking and the problems which need solutions. Understanding those voids can lead to targeted content creation and resource development.

He commented that platforms that are trying to push out products and information about mental health and wellness should have basic things like a website and they should take the opportunity to learn from existing best practices around search engine optimization. Used efficiently, your SEO will show what people are searching for in relation to mental health and wellness as well as provide other information for example a map showing which countries in the Caribbean are searching for mental health and wellness.

Awareness about Mental Health

In responding to a question about raising awareness around mental health Keron commented that a useful starting point is to have open, public conversations and move away from only discussing mental health and wellness when there has been a negative incident in which someone’s personal experience becomes the talk of the day.

Keron shared that his awareness level of mental health and wellness skyrocketed when he had to support a close relative who experienced a manic episode and was institutionalized to begin the recovery process. His intimate involvement with that process made him very aware that people with major mental health issues can appear as normal and high functioning but that does not mean that their symptoms are not present.

Self Education

This experience led to a deep process of educating himself and beginning to understand his stressors. He had to accept that he was stressed by being in Canada, working in corporate, having a poor diet, and not exercising.

He returned to Trinidad and removed every stressor that surround him. Today he proudly states that he is stress-free and his mental health is much better. He acknowledged that running a business has ups and downs, but he is not stressed and is now on the road to continuous improvement. Keron is working on improving his nutrition, being more consistent with his exercise routine, and getting sufficient rest but that is really his daily challenge.

Focus on your mental health

His advice is to begin your journey to improving your life by focussing on your mental health, your knowledge of mental health, and your self-awareness. He highly recommends the book “How to Do the Work: Recognize Your Patterns, Heal from Your Past, and Create Your Self” by Nicole LePera. It was published in 2021 and became the #1 New York Times Bestseller.

It is a book that Keron reads because it gave him a great starting point to embark on the journey of reflecting and thinking about his life, how he was brought up and how he would like to be.

Mental health is prevalent in Trinidad and Tobago and according to the Sixth Report of the Joint Select Committee on Social Services and Public Administration: “as of April 2017, we are ranked as the third highest in the Caribbean with respect to the prevalence of mental illness.” Furthermore, it stated that the stigmas associated with mental health deterred persons from seeking and utilizing mental health services.

Thank you, Keron for your openness in discussing mental health.

State housing equals vote bartering!

La Riviera, La Fontaine, and La Renaissance are three high-rise towers in the West of Trinidad where some of the rich and famous reside.  I can assure you that payment delinquency is not even a conversation and if it is, 40% delinquency is not the rate being discussed.  It is likely to be less than 1%.

Why then is Minister Camille Robinson Regis crying about the 40% delinquency rate for state housing.  Isn’t it the same society in which the behaviours are different?  The difference in the individual responses lies in the systems, processes, and procedures implemented in both circumstances.  The residents of La Riviera, La Fontaine, and La Renaissance know that they would have to find alternative accommodation if they defaulted on payments. 

Published in the Trinidad Express on July 24, 2022.

On the other hand, beneficiaries of state accommodation believe that they have bartered their rental payment in exchange for their vote so they can do whatever they want. A close look at polling division voting results will support this statement.  They are also very aware that they will not be evicted for nonpayment of rent.

In a report in the Trinidad Express (July 20, 2022) Minister Robinson Regis showed an example of how the bartering occurs when she said: “homeowners believe as it’s the Government, they do not have to pay” and provided this example in support of her conclusion: “people in my own constituency, whose rental is between $100-$250, and yet they owing $50,000, which means from the day they got the unit, they have not paid.”   If the Minister knows this, then what has she done to correct this exploitation of the state and therefore the taxpayer by her constituents.

The concept of vote bartering continued when the Minister talked about wanting homeowners to feel the commitment to pay and announced that the Government will embark on a public education programme and use the strategies used by the former Housing Minister Randall Mitchell, where “customers felt the ease to pay up their arrears and not left to feel hounded.”  Had those soft strategies been successful, the Minister would not be revealing this current 40% delinquency today, so what is her point?

With local government elections on the near horizon, my interpretation is that this is just another way to send a message to those 40% delinquents that the status quo has their backs and will be gentle on any hounding for legitimate payments. Once again we are reinforcing a culture of delinquency.

The Minister is also making a soft call to the contractors by suggesting that if only they collected the approximately one billion dollars in arrears, they would be able to pay them the more than one billion they own.

Accounting is not as simple as this Madam Minister so please try another explanation of the government’s failure to honour its commitment to the contractors.

The real issue here is your government’s failure to put in place systems, processes, and procedures that would encourage a cultural shift and force occupants to pay their rent.  If there are no consequences, then why should they make any payments?

For the umpteenth time, citizens are hearing that there is a new application system but for the word “revolutionized” to be associated with it is to insult our intelligence because digital application systems are the norm globally.

Despite this backwardness, it is however encouraging that a digital system was launched. This iteration of the PNM government has simply dropped the ball on managing and leading this country.  Seven years into your term in office, you should be ashamed to be promising many ICT solutions.  We should be living those solutions.  Your colleagues at the Ministry of Legal Affairs are still emailing citizens telling us to visit their offices to pay the $40.00 for annual returns.

By not putting the proper systems, processes, and procedures in place, you are supporting the culture which accepts nonpayment of rent as a norm.

My question is: Are citizens voting for you because you know how to manage the country’s business or are they voting for you because you let all of us get away with slackness?”  I want to vote for people who can manage the resources of the country in the best interest of the collective.

Toting feelings for 15 years … Really?

Published Trinidad Guardian July 6, 2022.

“Keep the good memories and throw out the bad ones” is a quotation by Norhafsah Hamid, from the book “Back to Basics”. 

Our prime minister has been toting a bad memory for 15 years about the headline of a story written by reporter Darren Bahaw about his first court appearance in his Landate lawsuit.  At a recently held news conference, he waded into Newsday Report Darren Bahaw and even refused to answer his question on the current day issue of Reginald Armour’s appointment as Attorney General.  

I wonder what the Prime Minister and his communications advisors intended to achieve by recalling this 15-year-old grudge especially since the reporter is unlikely to have been the one who wrote the headline.  What are the messages they expected the media and the population to take away from this negative journey down memory lane?

Memories are a database of ideas and thoughts from which we can draw either positive or negative conclusions.  I wonder what other memories our Prime Minister is toting negatively against persons and how and when they will be revealed.  

Citizens are all engaged in a moment-by-moment struggle to survive let alone thrive.  The last thing we want to see is our leader spewing venom based on his unresolved issues.  We want to be inspired to reach out to someone who hurt us 15 years ago and say, “I forgive you, let’s move on”.  Maybe if our Prime Minister demonstrated a capacity for forgiveness some citizens might follow his lead and try to de-escalate moments of conflict. 

Maybe if he kept with the key messages which must have been prepared for the news conference, we would have heard more details about the action plan which has been developed to deal with the violence, now being described as a public health emergency.

Maybe if his tone was warmer and more welcoming, we would be reassured that we can awake every morning and look forward to a brighter day even when there are clouds above.

Our youths need to experience our Prime Minister being always his best self, using language, which is inspirational, and tackling issues that will positively impact their future.  Something has happened to our Prime Minister and his advisors because we are seeing someone who is angry and full of venom.

What we need is a leader who is prepared to focus on respectful engagement.   A leader who continues to tote feelings from as far back as 15 years will not take us where we need to go.  Throwing out bad memories might be difficult, but it is necessary for us to move forward.  The most useful part of bad memories is the teaching that they provide. 

End the stigmatization of mental health

Hans de Vignes chats with Mental Health Counselor Dennise Demming

Hans de Vignes sees himself as a change advocate using his voice to create positive change. He entered the entertainment industry as a host/hype man and today is one of our most sought-after communication voices.
Hans talks in general about his concern for mental wellness and specifically reflects on his own experiences with counseling. He comments that: “we need to stop putting a stigma behind going to a psychiatrist and a psychologist” and accept that it is equal to a medical check-in and does not mean that the person is “mad” or “crazy”.
There is a generational issue where older persons feel that the family can provide whatever support is needed but family structures have changed and mental health counseling is now necessary for persons to thrive.
As an example of a group of persons who will benefit from counseling, Hans refers to members of our protective services and the social and personal pressure they constantly face. He also references the entertainment sector where it is so easy to get caught up in the praise element and for entertainers to see themselves as greater than their reality.
He commented that in a recent group session he said: “As entertainers, we are not inferior. We are not superior. We are different. And embracing those differences is such an important part of life in general inside or outside of entertainment.”
Hans explains that his first encounter with a mental health therapist was because he wanted to get his mind right to move on to the next stage of life. The interview ends with a passionate call for people, particularly in entertainment to go to someone for professional help especially because entertainment comes with a lot of criticism and a lot of praise.”

No Health Without Mental Health

“There is no health without mental health” is the phrase that dominated this conversation with Psychotherapist Marcia Celestine. She has been in practice since the 1980s and specializes in Couple and Family Therapy. Her training and practice span 3 countries – Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, and England.

Marcia is concerned that many of our children and young people are not experiencing the best of their childhood and noted the important role of parents in responding to their children’s needs throughout their stages of development.

She urged the business community to focus on raising awareness of mental illness recognizing that unhealthy workers, whether physically or mentally negatively impact productivity. Once an employer recognizes the special needs of an employee, they must be prepared to provide that employee with the space and time to heal.

The conversation shifted to the national community and the need to improve communications about different aspects of mental illness, from self-care to showing empathy and consideration for each other.

Psychotherapist, Marcia Celestine reminds us that there is no health without mental health.

Decisive Leadership is needed to stem the Exodus

 Decisive Leadership to Stem the Exodus

originally published:

Wrightson Road in Port-of-Spain. AZP News/Azlan Mohammed/

FORMER senators Clarence Rambharat and Devant Maharaj and actress/comedian Nicki Crosby are citizens who have opted for a sojourn outside of Trinidad and Tobago. I wonder why.

From their public profiles, I conclude that they are all nationalists, formerly committed to the progress of our twin-island republic but something inspired them to seek happiness elsewhere.

How are they different from the long list of companies who have abandoned the thought of setting up business in T&T?  From Sandals to WiPay, companies have made other choices to realise their dreams and aspirations in a country other than ours.

Since 2008, different governments have talked about diversifying the economy away from energy. Over the years we have even invested more than $15 billion of taxpayers’ money into the establishment of the T&T International Financial Centre (TTIFC) to realise the dream of diversification.

The International Financial Centre (IFC) concept is not unique to T&T and indeed many other countries have successfully set up IFCs and continue to work aggressively to distinguish themselves.

But our country seems to be stuck, unable to achieve that goal of diversification or to realise our dream of being the regional financial hub. According to their website, TTIFC seems to have pivoted to taking responsibility for building out our country’s FinTech-enabled ecosystem.

If someone asked: “Where do you see T&T in five to ten years” most of us would struggle to provide a clear answer.

Decisive, inspirational leadership is required for us to emerge from this stuckness. Many countries have used the misfortune of the Covid-19 pandemic to reboot their economies and focus on building back a stronger, more inclusive, green, and resilient economy.

The T&T response seems to be a doubling down on our petroleum dependency. According to the Green Economy Tracker, the petroleum sector provides 5% of jobs while accounting for 85% of our export earnings and 40% of government revenue.

This reliance on the petroleum sector and the provision of gasoline and electricity at globally low prices have caused our population to become complacent.

Our country has been estimated to have the world’s second-highest carbon footprint per capita.

Despite the benefit of our tropical location with an abundance of sun and wind, little has been done to create a green economy.

Our recycling efforts continue to be poorly executed and we still have not found the political will necessary to join the global movement to ban the use of plastics.

Decisive leadership which builds trust and confidence is what is needed to stem the outflow of citizens and businesses.

We all need to feel confident that efforts are being made to diversify our economy away from fossil fuels.

If I could influence our decision-makers to identify two areas of focus for our country, I would suggest massive investments in digitization and a deep pivot to creating and developing a green economy fueled by clean energy.

Maybe if technology underpinned all our actions and conservation was evident in everything we did, fewer citizens would think of leaving our beautiful twin island.

Maybe if the business environment was driven by technology, many more companies would consider setting up shop here.

Additionally, a better rating on the ease of doing index would help. Unfortunately, we continue to make poor decisions about the use of our technology and the greening of our economy is seldom ever discussed by our politicians.

For the foreseeable future, citizens like former senators Rambharat and Maharaj and actress Crosby will continue to remain outside of T&T.

Mental Wellness discussion

Maureen Joanne Bowen is a practicing Psychologist for the past 35 years and a Senior Lecturer at UWI Roytec for the past 28 years.

She comments that despite the high number of counselors in the country, mental health issues are still a taboo subject that is often swept under the carpet. She has managed Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP) for a range of organizations and observed that while the attitude is becoming more positive, there is a significant amount of work to ensure that the average worker can access mental wellness support when they need it.

In commenting on what can individuals do to maintain their mental wellness, she notes the importance of authentic engagement on an ongoing basis. She also remarked that just the act of helping another person will add to one’s personal mental wellness.

Your Mental Health is important …

Mental wellness is the topic of discussion between Nirad Tewarie, CEO of Amcham, and Mental Health Counselor, Dennise Demming.

He commented that the importance of Mental Health was brought to his attention when he began to focus on the Health and Safety Track at the annual HSSE Conferences which Amcham has been hosting for more than 26 years.

His personal experience with the suicide of his cousin has motivated him to be an advocate for mental health. He commented on the need for people in organizations to use the services available to them in their EAP programmes as well as the importance of de-stigmatizing mental wealth.

We all need to recognize that our mental well-being is just as important as our physical wellness and sometimes requires even greater attention. It is indeed an investment in our overall well-being.

Transportation is a quality of life issue …

Trinidad and Tobago is not a healthy place, so how do we expect to be productive?  We are leaders in the incidence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in the region.  Heart disease accounts for 25% of all deaths annually while diabetes and hypertension each account for 12% of the deaths.  The contributing factors include overweight/obesity, lack of regular exercise, and some completely avoidable stresses of a chaotic transportation system.

There are neither quick fixes nor easy solutions to these problems.  There is a World Health Organization (WHO) report titled: “What Ministries of Transport Need to Know” and I wonder if it is available to our cabinet Ministers because our Ministers have clearly missed the concept that “transport is strongly linked with health, development and the environment”.

Express May 22, 2022

There is no question that an effective transportation system that increases access to work, education, and health care will positively impact our population.  If students did not spend so much time getting to and from school, there would be more time available to engage in sports or other productive activities and just maybe redirect them away from drugs and crime.

If parents didn’t spend so much time in the traffic, they might just be motivated to prepare healthier meals for themselves and their families.  Healthy foods and a balanced diet directly result in improved health.

If we all spent less time on the roads and in traffic, we might all be encouraged to be active and become engaged in more physical activity.

If we had an organized transportation system, Trinidad and Tobago would reduce its carbon emissions and help mitigate climate change and environmental damage.

The government of Trinidad and Tobago has not even bothered to create a Transportation Authority to regulate the chaos which now prevails on our roads.  As recently as March 17, 201, Dr. Trevor Townsend, who was at the time a Senior Lecturer at UWI said that: “Trinidad and Tobago needs a national Transit Authority to govern the public transportation sector and protect commuters like 18-year-old Ashanti Riley, who it is alleged lost her life at the hands of a “PH” driver.” 

Our leaders continue to ignore the evidence that poorly managed transportation systems adversely impact safety, health, and productivity.

The National Strategic Plan for the Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) outlines the strategic direction but never references the role of transportation.  We continue to miss the mark when we take a siloed approach to governing.

If we truly believe that the health of a nation is a fundamental determinant of the quality of life of its citizens and therefore an instrument of development, then we must make every effort to create the policies and frameworks which will nudge our citizens in the direction of making positive lifestyle choices.   Transportation is a quality-of-life issue that can have a significant positive impact on our health and productivity.  

After World War Two (WW2) ended in 1945, Japan was hardly able to feed its population, but they realised the importance of transportation and re-focussed their journey to continue developing the dream train.  Today Japan leads the world in the development of fast trains.  I don’t expect us to do the same, but we must develop and implement a transportation framework that will positively impact our own development.

Caribbean Wellness in Focus

In this edition of Caribbean Wellness, Mental Health Counselor, Dennise Demming chats with Clinical Psychologist, Denise Jittan Johnson. The discussion focuses on mental wellness and the need to bring mental wellness to the forefront of our discussions.

Historically Trinidad and Tobago has stigmatized persons as either healthy or mad and this stigmatization limits people’s access to support and help. Conversations about mental well-being are important for us to understand that even if we are struggling emotionally, there is help available.

In commenting on the work environment, it was noted that healthy attitudes positively impact productivity and that workplace wellness activities should not be annual check box items but should be built into the day-to-day work environment. A simple recognition that there’s a human behind every job title can go a long way to changing our response to mental wellness.

Mental wellness begins with the individual taking time off to check-in with themselves and really approaching that self-recognition from a space of kindness. People who are kind to themselves can extend that kindness outward to others and recognize that others are also dealing with their own stuff.