Families urged to find help for mentally unwell

At least five mentally unwell people are not within the care of either the Mental Health Unit of the national hospital nor the Goshen Trust respite home because their families have not referred them as needed.

Goshen Trust Samoa Mental Health services, the only respite home for people with a variety of psychological or psychiatric needs, is currently home to 12 people who need daily care.

Chief Executive Officer Naomi Eshraghi said she knows of at least five people who should be staying in the Moamoa compound, but without their or their families’ referral and consent, there is nothing the trust can do.

“Families take their members to the Mental Health Unit and depending on their situation they are assessed and brought here,” she said.

“We are stuck. I see them and it breaks my heart, but I can’t force them to come.”

Ms. Eshraghi is pleading with families to take responsibility for their family members, and to refer them to the hospital Mental Health Unit and get them the care they need.

She said due to their mental conditions, the people may not understand they need to be in self-isolation or that they need to maintain a distance from others while there is a risk of COVID-19 infections in the community. 

And if they do become unwell, with COVID-19 or any other illness, it is unlikely they will be cared for or take the initiative to get help from a clinic or hospital.

“I would like them to be out of the street.” Ms. Eshraghi said. “They are not being looked after, they do not rest, they are not in isolation… they could be the first cases because they are in contact with anyone on the street.

“We need families to show more responsibility. Families should show that care by referring them, or making contact with us.”

The trust has the capacity to look after anyone who needs it, with enough space and resources in the respite home, she said. It can also go out and collect people on the advice of their family members if required.

Up in Moamoa, the Goshen Trust have made a few changes to keep the residents of the home and its workers safe. Five of the seven health support workers have moved in to their own accommodation onsite, otherwise they would have been unable to get to work without buses for at least a fortnight.

The other two, who have small children at home and have not moved in, are required to shower and change as soon as they arrive at the compound before they start their day’s work. 

Goshen Trust is paying for their living costs while they stay on site, as well as ensure they have phone credit to keep in touch with their families.

Ms. Eshraghi said the health support workers are keeping the resident’s spirits up and working to ensure they are informed about the situation the country, and the world, is in. But they are keeping television and news consumption to a minimum so as to avoid anxious reactions.

“They (the residents) were fearful, but now they are doing better because the staff is trying to create different things to keep normality in place.”

Art and crafts, physical activities and other programmes are all being done as normal, except with a bit more distance between everyone. 

Family visits are also suspended for the time being, and residents are making do with phone calls and messaging. Family have been coming by the compound with boxes of food and supplies to leave at the gate.

The lockdown has also taken two residents out of their work experience and community reintegration programmes. But Ms. Eshraghi said she is not concerned for the progress, and that working under strict state of emergency conditions would not have been conducive for the residents either. 

Goshen also had to farewell their volunteer back to Australia, who had been working with staff and residents on art therapy. Luckily he had successfully worked with a health support worker to train them to take on the session delivery in his stead, and he is hoping to come back after the emergency is over. 

“That’s a bit sad but we deal,”

For now, the occasional visits from the national Mental Health Unit are also on hold, because the staff there are more exposed to other people more often. For now, it is manageable, but if the lockdown lasts longer than a month the residents will need medical check-up and tests done and a solution will have to be found, Ms. Eshraghi said. 

Head of Unit Seiuliali’I Dr. George Tuitama and his team remain available over the phone for the Goshen Trust health workers to seek guidance from them when needed, Ms Eshraghi said.

Down at Tupua Tamasese Meaolo Hospital’s M.H.U., the patients and their nursing team are operating business as usual.

Seiuliali'i said the unit recently got a new supply of all its necessary medication, and the unit is able to conduct their home visits with the patients as usual.

The only programme on hold for now is the measles recovery counselling programme they have been carrying out with the trainee pastors of Malua Theological College.

 During the state of emergency, buses have been prohibited from operating. But the M.H.U. is not suffering from a lack of staff with M.O.H. driving to pick everyone up and drop them home daily, he said.

Meanwhile, the team is on standby for psychosocial support to anyone dealing with negative effects of self-isolation and quarantine. With planeloads of people now quarantining in hotels and community centres, Seiuliali’i will be going to visit people and make sure they are coping. 

Protect yourself and your loved ones against the spread of COVID-19 by staying isolated and phsycially distant from others. Wash your hands for 20 seconds at least with soap and clean water after handling food, chores or touching animals. Do not touch your face, and sanitise frequently touched surfaces often.

A coronavirus call centre has been established to take calls from the public. The numbers are: Toll Free number 800 6440, and 21183, 21176, 21173, 22914, 22241 and 24402.

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