Activist helping medics to cope with Covid mentally

Iregi Mwenja,Founder of Psychiatric Disability Organisation Kenya speaking at Jumuia Conference and County Home on August 28 during the mental health wellness camp for health workers serving in Covid-19 centres in Tigoni, Kiambu County.

Photo credit: Evans Habil | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Mental activist Iregi Mwenja knows too well the impact that stressful workplaces can have on the physical and psychological well-being of a person.
  • Recently, several medics from Togoni Level IV Hospital and Kiambu County Referral Hospital were engaged in various physical activities and peer-group chats to ease their minds from the daily routine of work.

They say even heroes need saving. And while our medics are definitely the heroes of the Covid-19 pandemic, there is one man who has chosen to be a ray of light for those who have risked their lives for others.

Mental activist Iregi Mwenja knows too well the impact that stressful workplaces can have on the physical and psychological well-being of a person.

It is for this reason that he has been organising mental wellness camps for health workers on the front-line of the Covid-19 battle.

Recently, several medics from Togoni Level IV Hospital and Kiambu County Referral Hospital were engaged in various physical activities and peer-group chats to ease their minds from the daily routine of work.

The medics spent the weekend exercising, dancing, and playing games such as football and volleyball as well as sharing experiences over meals amid much laughter and cheer. The change in their demeanour between the start of the day and the end was remarkable.

According to Mwenja, who is also the founder of the Psychiatric Disability Organisation (PDO), people’s mental states greatly influences their physical ability to perform their duties, particularly in highly demanding jobs such as medical work.

Physical drain

He explains that when an individual is exposed to extended periods of psychological and physical drain, they often seek other coping mechanisms to help them get through their day, some of which may not be healthy.

“Just like the rest of us, our healthcare workers also fear Covid-19 and constantly worry how their work affects their families. Most experience stigmatisation from the community. All these can have a detrimental toll on the mental health,” he added.

For the past six months, medics have been stretched to their limits attending to Covid-19 patients, with many having no time or space to find release.

In addition to tackling an unknown disease, they have had to adapt to sudden changes in responsibilities. As a result, many have expressed moments of burn-out, anxiety attacks and even depression. Conversations with several healthcare workers at the camp highlighted the great burden that they face. Many said that they often felt like giving up but held on because of their passion for their job and humanity.

“Some of us only do this because it is our passion and we love helping people in need. It can be disheartening to hear that funds are being misused yet the welfare of healthcare workers is not being addressed. At this point, many of us have accepted, adjusted, and resolved to cope with the situation,” a health worker who wished to remain anonymous told the Nation.

Tigoni Level IV Hospital nurse Jane Muthaka draws her daily motivation from recovered patients. She explains how encouraged she feels once a patient who came at the hospital critically ill from Covid-19 is declared healthy.

Covid-19 centre

“At first, it was very hard especially when people realised that I was working at the Covid-19 centre. But now, we are used to the situation and are doing well. We also receive counselling and this has helped a lot,” she added.

Although Scholar Kamau, who is a caterer in the kitchen department at Tigoni Level IV Hospital, does not directly interact with Covid-19 patients as some of her medical colleagues, she acknowledges that every worker at the centres have felt the burden of the disease.

“Working at a Covid-19 centre sometimes makes someone feel confined especially with the uncertainty and fear around it. But meeting here with colleagues and friends has made me feel so refreshed and much better than how I was in the morning,” she added.

Mercy Chege, a Clinical Psychologist at Kiambu County Referral Hospital Covid-19 centre, wishes there could be more opportunities where healthcare workers were offered self-care and psychological interventions.

“I have seen colleagues go into depression. If there were more psychological assistance for health workers and support staff, there would be a significant improvement in service delivery to patients,” she adds.

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