Measles' mental health impact remains

As the measles epidemic recedes, its psychological impact will only grow, the Ministry of Health’s Mental Health Unit warns, as it urges those suffering from its impact to seek help. 

Seiuliali'i Dr. George Leao Tuitama, the psychiatric registrar and head of the Mental Health Unit in the Ministry of Health, told the Samoa Observer they had been working behind the scenes and to date have seen "more than 600” families. 

“For those personally affected, by loss of a family member, or watching their loved one in the hospital, this epidemic has pushed many people’s coping mechanisms to the breaking point," he said. 

“In recognition that psychological support is not a common aspect of Samoan culture, where stoicism is valued, and the psychosocial support group at the Ministry of Health’s Mental Health Unit is actively reaching out to provide assistance.” 

He said the Mental Health Unit’s psycho-social support service aims to meet the psychological and social needs of families both in hospital and recently discharged:

“It provides not only patients but families also, with emotional and spiritual support delivered by a small team including a leader who is qualified in psychiatry, psychologists, counselling or social work with technical support provided by two analysts. 

“The unit is fortunate to include Soul Talk Samoa led by a Faifeau and Faletua [church Minister and wife] who are trained and qualified counselling provide invaluable, faith-based spiritual guidance using counselling models to engage, explore and empower the people they work with. 

“The service has now expanded to include an immunisation staff join teams visiting families in the community to vaccinate those not previously immunised.” 

He said teams composed of local and Pasifika Medical Association Emergency Medical Team psychiatrists and social workers will visit patients admitted with measles and counsel families who have lost members to the virus. 

“A detailed assessment is conducted to evaluate the type of assistance families require and to plan follow-up visits," he said. 

“This assistance includes psychological counselling and distribution of supplies as the financial impact on many families has been significant. Counselling helps with the processing of the emotional impact through confidential, non-judgmental meetings with the qualified team’s social workers.”

“At this time, around 600 families have been visited, across Upolu. Plans are to have follow ups with them over the next months and the coming year. With specialists going into the community,” Seiuliali'i said.  

The World Health Organisation and the United Nations Children's Fund will also provide technical support to the programme. 

Patients' and families’ most common immediate needs include emotional and spiritual support and child-care assistance, Seiuliali'i said. 

"When asked what sustains them, families visited overwhelmingly mentioned prayer, support from family, and their faith,” he said 

"This service extends to everyone that is directly or indirectly affected like staff of the hospital, from doctors to nurses, to porters, securities and cleaners. These staff have witnessed the trauma faced by families and are themselves traumatized by this experience."  

Seiuliali'i told the Samoa Observer the effort is supported by donations from international and local sponsors, volunteer psychiatrists and social workers.

Sponsors of the mental well-being programme include: Frankie's supermarket, the A.S.A. foundation, Agnes florist and catering, the Caritas Foundation and partnerships with local and international non-Government organisations including the Samoa Umbrella for Non-Governmental Organisation and the Red Cross.

Seiuliali'i said counselling is confidential and teams offer mobile support direct to family homes. They can be reached at 7676229 or 21212.


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