The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) held four training workshops in various provinces to help participants deal with the unprecedented situation of COVID-19.
These workshops focused fully on addressing mental health concerns among front –line responders.
For many participants, this is the only exposure to awareness- raising about mental health that they’ve had.
A participant at one of these workshops, Felix Soal said, “In the beginning, it was the fear of the unknown,”
For 30 years now, Felix Soal has dedicated his life to patient care at the Mendi General Hospital in Southern Highlands, Papua New Guinea.
“I was worried about taking the virus home and infecting my family. Our relatives stopped visiting us as they were apprehensive too…I felt discriminated against.”
This stigmatization has been one of the biggest stressors for much medical personnel, as was revealed from feedback after the workshop.
ICRC delegate Charlotte Blackman, who led the workshops said, “In some cases, stigmatization was already an unfortunate reality for them – both from their families and communities.”
One participant said her husband told her ‘not to come home’ if she continued working in the hospital.”
Citing discussions held during the workshop, Blackman adds, “The sources of stress include fear of getting infected, fear of transmitting the disease to their loved ones, fear of stigmatization, the potential death of their colleagues or patients or the exhaustion of their work.”
To strengthen their coping tools, the participants were encouraged to follow only credible sources of information related to COVID-19 to avoid the anxiety that rumours could bring along.
“We also taught them to identify any change in their emotional reactions, including uncertainty, fear and anxiety, denial and minimalization, hopelessness and helplessness, anger and aggression,” Ms. Blackman says.
Across the highlands, the ICRC plans to continue coaching and supervising trained personnel to ensure they have the support they need. “We are also working at the community level and using information aids like videos and other tools,” Ms. Blackman added.