Covid -19 national mental health and psychosocial response

A working group led by Dr. Chencho Dorji, retired Psychiatrist was formed at the Ministry of Health to plan, prepare and roll out the Mental Health and Psychosocial Response to the COVID – 19 pandemic.

The working group has identified some key strategies and structure to address the growing mental health and psychosocial issues related the pandemic in the country. The strategy is to identify the most vulnerable and high risk population such as individuals with COVID -19 positive symptoms or positive status and their families and give them psychosocial counseling and support to overcome their  difficult predicament.

This population group will be minimal in numbers, but their psychosocial needs are the maximum. The next group of vulnerable population are individuals in quarantine facilities, their families and relatives and the front-line workers or first responders such as the health workers, DESSUPS, Police and other volunteers who are at risk of exposure. The third group is the general population, who are either directly or indirectly affected by this pandemic. For them, the focus of our intervention is sharing information, education strengthening their psychological resilience.

Our first task was to establish direct telephone counseling at the national level so that the individuals in the isolation/ quarantine facilities and the general public can easily access information or get telephone counseling. For that, we have set up five dedicated mobile hotlines for people to access.

The numbers are 17123237/38/39/40/41. Any individual who has a psychological issue related to the pandemic and wants to get clarification or counseling can call these numbers. Although, these phone lines are dedicated to counseling, it has also been sharing info  on the pandemic and country situation.

However, toll free number 2121 is the dedicated to give specific information related to the COVID – 19 protocols in the country. Over the next week or so, we are planning to organize counseling teams and launch telephone counseling services at the district, thromde, organizations and local communities. Standard operating procedures are being formulated now so that services can be standardized and delivered efficiently in all parts of the country.

Our next priority is to train all the first responders and frontline workers on Psychosocial First Aid (PFA). PFA is equivalent to what we generally understand as CPR or Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation during heart attack or emergency medical condition to revive the person’s life.

PFA is the emergency response to psychological crisis such as when an individual feels lost or suicidal. It is like the revival of a person’s mental faculty from the shock of hearing a dramatic news or being exposed to a life threatening situation.

PFA can be done by any individual after a brief training. We do not need a trained professional counselor to give it. PFA will be useful tool for our current frontline first responders for their own emotional and psychological well-being as well as for those in their care.

Working in the frontline during this crisis is a difficult job. On one hand, individual may experience fear of contacting the virus in the facility if they are not well informed or prepared while on the other hand they may not be sensitive to deal with individual’s in their care. PFA will able to prepare the individual first responder to look after his own mental health as well as he can become competent and sensitive to handle individual under their care.

PFA training and application has five components: preparing the individual responder for his task such as by gathering information and getting mentally and physically prepared. The second part is being mindful and sensitively watchful of individuals and events under theircare without being judgmental or unnecessarily intrusive, the third part is active listening to complaints or problems their clients tell them, the fourth is linking individual’s with problems to available resources and support including linking individual to his own resources and skills, which the individual may overlook during crisis, and the last part is taking care of the responders own psychological health and mental wellbeing.

Our frontline and first responders are exposed to unprecedent stress and anxiety during this critical period of their job. They need to be trained and supported to be able to look after their own health and deliver efficient services in their clients. So, over the next week or so we will be rolling out training for first responders on PFA. Various technologies will be used to give distant training in the context of the pandemic social restrictions to expedite the process. Training teams will also visit the peripheral places to set up the local teams and train them.

Kuensel features Q & A with Dr Chencho Dorji every first Saturday of the month