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Measles victims families urged to seek counselling

A volunteer social worker at the Ministry of Health’s Mental Health Unit has urged families, who have lost loved ones in the measles epidemic, to speak about their experiences with professional counselors.

Speaking to the Samoa Observer, Nua Nelson-Hall said seeking help now could help families from experiencing more complicated mental health problems in future such as depression, anxiety or suicidal thoughts.

“I was part of a team of two (church) reverends where we went to one family who lost an eight-month-old child,” she said.

The 26-year-old from Vaoala said that the mother of the deceased started crying before they had even started counselling her. 

“Losing a child can have a traumatic effect on families. I feel that our help in terms of the psychological side was very helpful for them especially the mother," she said. 

“But the work we do is still ongoing you cannot expect recovery on the first day.

“Trauma is a long process to get over. Families need help in order to heal.”

The social worker, who graduated from Nanjing Normal University, said that there is also risks of domestic violence occurring within affected families.

“In some cases we have seen there is a lot of blaming going around between family members," she said. 

“We have families blaming each other, families blaming the hospital, doctors. But it’s not our job to find out who is right or wrong, we are here to help overcome the trauma.

“[But there is] spiritual help, psychological help, counselors, and psychiatrists to help in any way.”

Ms. Hall said she needed to assure people that it was okay to speak about their emotional difficulties. 

“I have been volunteering for four weeks and we have various teams that go out to assess; one team goes out to the villages; others focus at the hospital within the paediatric ward, [the Intensive Care Unit], and [the] outpatient [ward]," she said. 

“We cover the measles cases and non-measles cases.

“One of our psychiatrists went to the outpatient ward and found two girls, aged 14 and 11 who were looking after two siblings - two cousins because both parents were also admitted to the hospital after their father was in the [Intensive Care Unit] and the mother in the Emergency Unit.”

She said that the sisters had to shoulder the responsibility of looking after everyone in the family because all family members had measles:

"[Their] family were discovered when the vaccination teams went out to do the mass vaccination campaign [who] found out they were all sick.

“We offered assistance in any form, some in the form of supplies such as nappies for the measles patients.

“A lot of people called in to talk to a counselor they have had sessions. During our assessments, a lot of family members share that they have lost the meaning of life.”

Ms. Hall said it was important to note that the healing process has just started.

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