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Front-line health staff get online counseling

By ZHANG YU in Shijiazhuang | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-03-09 08:51

Editor's note: This series tells the stories of selfless individuals, from medical workers to volunteers, who are bravely fighting the virus outbreak with extraordinary dedication.

When a person crosses his arms across the chest or keeps elbows on the table during a conversation, it conveys to a keen observer what he is feeling. In the eyes of a psychiatrist, it reflects a person's state of mind.

Yu Xuezhu, 48, a therapist with 25 years of experience in psychological counseling in North China's Hebei province, observed how a female nurse-who was sent from Hebei to work on the front line to combat novel coronavirus in Wuhan, Hubei province-was battling anxiety.

During a video conversation on WeChat with the 30-year-old nurse, whose identity she preferred not to disclose, on Feb 3, Yu found the nurse had difficulty opening up.

"I could see that she was nervous and anxious at first when we started to talk about her work and life in Wuhan," Yu said. The nurse told her that her role was quite stressful.

The nurse is one of over 1,000 medical personnel sent from hospitals in Hebei to Wuhan, the epicenter of the virus outbreak.

Yu was one of the 23 therapists in Hebei tasked with providing online psychological counseling to help the medical staff overcome stress.

"The nurse was not used to local food, which is spicy. But she forced herself to eat enough so that she could stay strong and perform better at work," Yu said.

The nurse served patients infected with novel coronavirus in the intensive care units at a hospital in Wuhan.

In Yu, she seemed to have found someone she could open up to. She had trouble sleeping due to anxieties during emergencies.

"But the most serious problem was that she thought she was not competent enough, and she blamed herself," Yu said, adding that this caused her frustration.

"Yet, she wouldn't confide her problems to anyone, neither her family members nor her colleagues," Yu said.

"She didn't want to disappoint others who had pictured medical staff as heroes for voluntarily joining in the fight against the virus."

Yu told the nurse to allow herself to have negative emotions and find a way out by discussing them with others. After she did that, she learned she could focus better on work.

After a 40-minute conversation with Yu, the nurse seemed to have loosened her grip on the table in front of her, Yu said. "She was also smiling when talking, a sign that she was becoming relaxed."

On the same day, Yu helped two other medical staff members in overcoming stress-related problems.

The counselor spoke to a 35-year-old female nurse, who was worried about her 10-year-old son. "She was feeling guilty because her son was sick. He was at her home in Hebei, and she couldn't take care of him."

The nurse didn't have a video chat with her son for ten days after she came to Wuhan in Jan because she couldn't control her tears whenever she saw him.

"Mom, why did you leave me alone at home? Why didn't you come back even after saying you would?" This is what the nurse's son told her during a phone call.

"How could a mother not feel guilty when she hears her own son saying so?" Yu said.

Yu offered to help find doctors to get her son treated. She also offered to provide any help the nurse's family needed.

The nurse was surprised with the offer of help, but she also didn't want to trouble others, Yu said. "But it made her less worried, and made her focus on her work."

Yu didn't expect the sessions with the front-line medical staff to last about an hour for each, nor did she expect to discover so many problems. "I feel honored and happy I could do my part in the fight against the epidemic," she said.

According to Li Keqing, head of Hebei Provincial Mental Health Center based in Baoding, a prefecture-level city in Hebei, where Yu works, counseling services are available around the clock, and appointments are arranged according to the schedules of the medical staff.

The medical staff can have a video chat with an appointed therapist anytime they want, he said. The hospital dispatched 12 psychiatrists on Feb 20 to designated hospitals treating coronavirus patients across Hebei province to help medical staff deal with psychological problems.

"In times of emergency, their (medical staff) state of mind might be affected by many things, including changing environment and deaths," Li said, adding that timely counseling can help them deal with problems such as anxiety, depression and frustration.


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