Yeshey Lhadon

De-Suups’ mental health status is discussed on webinar, which takes place every Thursday afternoon. It is organized by “National Covid-19 Mental Health and Psychosocial Response Team”

De-Suups have been among the principal volunteers since the Covid-19 Pandemic began. The volunteers cope up with different challenges everyday depending on where they are deployed.

In the porous southern borders, they fight tough weather conditions, wild animals and infiltrators. Up in the north of the country, they brave freezing temperatures and are often cut off completely. Those in quarantine facilities are exposed to Covid-19 virus.

The biggest challenge, however, is coping with their mental health and duty related stress.

De-Suups requested the De-Suup Health Safety and Security (HSS) team to train them as a skilled counsellor particularly for the volunteers deployed in the southern border.

A De-Suup, Sonam Wangchuk Kezang, said: “Most De-Suups are half civilian and half uniform personnel. It’s important that they balance their lives. We want to assist and prevent underlying issues through counselling. But we may be suffering ourselves.”

Senior consultant and a psychiatrist at the national referral hospital, Dr Chencho Dorji, said that De-Suup on the frontline were at high risk of developing mental health issues. “It’s important that we deal with them proactively, to prepare ourselves better beforehand, to build our psychological resilience and to avert major psychiatric problems.”

Phuntsho Wangdi, a De-Suup, said that volunteers in the south had to deal with intolerable heat and infiltrators. Another volunteer, Gyem Dorji, said that they spent anxious time guarding the borders and often encountered leopards and elephants.

One said that some took to drinking but in moderation, as it helped them to get some sleep.

De-Suup HSS team was formed during lockdown to study whether De-Suups were following the Covid-19 protocols and what kind of Covid-19 related stresses they were facing.

A De-Suup and a counsellor, Deki Choden, said that most of the De-Suup had family problems because of regular duty. “It was not the duty but communication gaps that led to stress.”

She said that substance use and unemployment, particularly among young De-Suup, affected their mental health. “Some keep themselves occupied by joining De-Suung. Duty was their way out to avoid stress at home.”

Sonam Wangchuk Kezang said: “With family issues back home, there are chances that one’s stress breakout at work.”

Some De-Suup claimed that they were on quarantine facility duty for more than 100 days. Dr Chencho Dorji said: “Doing duty for endless shifts, or three shifts is a problem. The person tends to get isolated and develop some unhealthy habits, both physical and mental. One must take rest.”

Proper counselling and mental health guidance should be given to the De-Suups before going for the training or posting them at various locations.

He said that the Wuhan case story was adopted to identify people with mental health issues. There are 24 questionnaires based on a self-scoring system. “It was found effective. De-suups in quarantine facilities are given the questionnaires. They can seek help on the phone unless it’s a severe case.

Anyone can avail counselling services over the phone or drop a message for anything related to mental health and psychosocial concern on the given phone numbers; 17123237, 17123238, 17123239, 17123240 and 17123241.