Virtual training open for health workers to better respond to mental health during COVID-19

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A three week virtual training course targeting doctors and nurses opened on Monday and aims to better equip and inform health workers on the mental health response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic caused a disruption to the already limited and stretched service given to mental health.

Among the vulnerable groups that are greatly affected as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic are persons with pre-existing mental health conditions while studies have shown children, women and older persons are also at risk for developing mental health issues during lockdown.

The virtual mental health training will focus on areas of self-care for health care workers, anxiety and depression, dealing with stressful situations, self-harm and suicide, COVID-19 and alcohol and other substances of abuse, domestic violence and mental well-being, psychological first aid, coping skills, counseling skills and techniques.

The training will be done in two sessions so health care workers can choose what time best works for them with limited disruption to the medical service.

Minister of Health Dr Frank Anthony said mental health is important to good health and well-being in society and as such the training is important because not a lot of attention is given to mental health care in Guyana. There are also limited mental health professionals in the country.

“We have consistently not paid attention or not given it the amount of attention it deserves. Many of our programmes remain understaffed and underfunded and therefore the reach of these programmes have been marginal as a result we do not have enough qualified personnel to adequately diagnose people with mental health vulnerabilities,” the Minister said.

The training will be facilitated by representatives in the mental health field from PAHO/WHO and local specialists in Guyana. Minister Anthony further stated that health care workers should also be protected and recalled the discrimination they faced in the beginning of the pandemic.

“We recall that when this all started that many of our nurses would stand outside of Georgetown Public Hospital waiting for transport but the minibus operators would refuse to pick them up.”

Additionally, the issue of an infodemic or the rise in fake news and misinformation on social media is further disrupting the public health efforts to curb the spread of disease.

“…it travels faster, it travels further and the erroneous message is quickly amplified. These false messages has served as catalyst to raise people anxiety and fear and has become a real threat is disrupting our public health efforts,” Minister Anthony said.

This, the Minister explained, also contributes to rise in stress levels and anxiety. The Ministry will now focus on helping patients before diagnosis, during and after they would have recovered as it relates to their mental state.

“This course is one where we are trying to reach out to our health care workers especially those in primary care to get them to understand how to better cope with stress, how to detect people with mental health vulnerabilities and how to counsel and assist them through many of these challenges.”

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