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Community-based mental health body supports health workers fight stress at workplace

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Despite taking care of patients, not many people who visit the health facilities in Kenya are aware that health workers are undergoing mental illness.

Many of the workers are poorly motivated and are daily unwinding from stress and burnout-free.

Studies in Kenya paint a grim picture that shows that there is a high frequency of depression, anxiety, insomnia and probable Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) among healthcare workers.

This is not surprising as the health sector has been allocated Sh7 billion in the financial year 2022/23.

Interestingly, only just 0.01 per cent of the health sector budget or Sh700,000 has been allocated for mental health expenditure.

As a result of this don’t-care attitude, the dwindling mental wellness of the health workers is slowly translating into poor service delivery.  

However, in Nakuru County, a health facility has partnered with Psychiatric Disability Organization (PDO) a community-based mental health organisation to support and take care of the mental health of the health workers.

“We have realised that whereas we’re taking care of patients no one takes care of us. On many occasions health workers find a patient describing the same problems they are facing yet they expect you [health worker] to give them psychological counselling,” said Dr Kuria Samson the Medical Superintendent in charge of Gilgil Sub-County Hospital.

Covid-19 pandemic

The mental health of medics was aggravated by the Covid-19 pandemic and many are yet to recover.

“We thought to partner with PDO and tap their experience in mental well-being to give psychological counselling to our staff and relieve the mounting stress among the health workers,” added Dr Kuria.

The medic said PDO offers telepsychiatry services via a video link to connect counsellors to clients for instant referral services, consultation, training, and supervision.

“With these arrangements, many health workers will get psychological services and debriefing as they are willing to open up to outsiders,” added Dr Kuria.

Dr Kuria revealed that some health workers had withdrawn while others had turned to alcohol and substance abuse.

“We don’t have statistics of health workers clandestinely using drugs but we have taken some staff for rehabilitation,” said Dr Kuria.

At least one healthcare worker died by homicide and before the pandemic, two cases among health workers were reported.

The health department has invited lenders to talk to healthcare workers to restructure their loan repayments.

Staff shortage

“During the pandemic, healthcare workers suffered burnout and the allowances which they enjoyed have been withdrawn coupled with looming staff shortage the workers are working extra hours and need to release pressure in a health

PDO chief executive officer Iregi Mwenja said Kenya has poor health-seeking behaviour when it comes to health workers on their mental health.

“Most of the health workers assume they know too much about mental health,” said Mr Mwenja.

He added: “Cases of suicide or attempted suicide amongst health care workers is becoming common and this calls for a collaboration to end this challenge.”

Mr Mwenja said health workers undergo daily trauma because of the nature of their work.

“Unfortunately health workers don’t have any means at work on how to offload the trauma they deal with,” said Mr Mwenja.

The PDO boss said the training curriculum of health workers in Kenya needs to be reviewed as it is geared toward equipping them with skills to help others.

“The medical curriculum doesn’t have a single unit on how health workers can take care of themselves. One of the poor skills they have, when they start working, is lack of how to take care of their wellbeing,” said Mr Mwenja.

The official said that owing to that poor training, health workers develop poor coping mechanisms at work by indulging in alcohol to relieve stress.

“They are doing self-prescription medication and are treating themselves,” said Mr Mwenja. 

He said many health workers have developed compassion fatigue and don’t get psychological help to deal with the trauma they go through every day hence they become used to it and abuse their patients in the wards.



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