Mental health: Medical team debriefing crucial to well-being of health workers –Psychologist 

Amarachi Okeh

A Clinical Psychologist, Oluwakemi Akintoyese, has called for regular debriefing of health workers handling traumatic cases to protect their mental health.

The psychologist noted that the debriefing of health workers managing traumatic cases would enable them to function properly.

Akintoyese was speaking with PUNCH HealthWise in an exclusive interview in commemoration of the 2022 World Mental Health Day themed, ‘Make Mental Health and Wellbeing for All a Global Priority’.

According to the psychologist, not paying attention to the mental health of health workers will impact their general health, efficiency at work, and also their handling of patients.

She noted that recent research by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health found that health workers are more likely to come down with a mental health problem because of the challenging situation and environment they find themselves

She noted that Nigerian health workers are often not debriefed after working on traumatic cases, stressing that this is not a good practice.

She stated that the Nigerian health sector is under pressure due to the exodus of health workers, adding that this leaves just a handful behind to cater to the large population.

The exodus of health workers, Akintoyese said, has had a massive toll on the health of the remaining workers as they now have to work for longer hours, and also face intense physical and emotional stress.

More health workers in the country, she said, are now compelled to cope with irregular shifts due to a shortage of staff.

Akintoyese stressed that the mental health of health workers should be made a high priority as their health condition could affect the way they treat patients.

She said, “When health workers are confronted with traumatic cases, there should be a format for debriefing.

“When they are not adequately debriefed and sent back to the field to work again, they cannot function.

“It is assumed that when you lose a patient you move on, but you don’t move on because one way or the other you have been part of the system that took care of this individual, so it gets to you as a human being.  

“That is why they are expected naturally to be debriefed before they go back to work.

“Not debriefing health workers has its dangers on both the workers’ mental health status, their own family and the patients”.

Akintoyese explained that due to the excessive pressure at the medical facilities, some workers may begin to have severe mental health situations that might be difficult to get out of.

This, she stressed, is very risky for health professionals because it makes them more vulnerable to other challenges happening to them as individuals and also the system.

“The system in terms of the people they are taking care of and the organisation they are working for. They will not be able to give their best,” she said.

Hospital management and patients, she said, should continue to show support and understanding to health workers so that they can perform their best always.

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