KZN Health MEC's impassioned plea to healthcare workers: We're giving you new and improved employee health and wellness services - please use them. And don't be 'embarrassed' to see a psychologist, or spiritual leader'

14 December 2022

KwaZulu-Natal Health MEC Ms Nomagugu Simelane has made an impassioned plea to healthcare workers in the Province not to neglect their psychological wellbeing. She has emphasised that seeking counselling or spiritual help is not a sign of weakness.

Speaking during the launch of the Department's Employee Health and Wellness programme in Dannhauser recently, MEC Simelane said: "We know you get exposed to gruesome scenes. Please do not suffer in silence, and do not feel 'embarrassed' to see a psychologist if you need to."

While acknowledging that many staff members worked long hours, had inadequate sleep, and were often socially isolated as a result, the MEC warned against the effects of work-related stress, which could manifest in dangerous emotional and physical outbursts, as well as other social disorders.

"You'll have a situation where even a woman gets home and becomes a monster, assaulting her own children for nothing... But you becoming a monster may not be of your own doing, but due to what you go through and see on a daily basis, but you're not able to deal with it psychologically."

The MEC lamented the fact that her plans to strengthen the programme, which she first spoke about in 2019, were scuppered by the onset of COVID-19.

She further acknowledged that, at the same time, the COVID-19 pandemic, followed by the looting and destruction of private property and the subsequent flooding in many parts of KZN, had all taken an even heavier toll on healthcare workers across the board.

The MEC used the occasion to introduce Dr Nokuthula Dlamini, the Department's newly-appointed director for Employee Health and Wellness. She would be establishing structures across the Province, in order to ensure that psychologists and employee wellness practitioners are available to all staff.

The Province currently has 34 wellness practitioners.

MEC Simelane said: "Dr Dlamini will also have a programme to ensure that in each district we have a psychologist who must be accessible. We don't want this programme to be seen to be focusing only on certain categories of healthcare workers and not others, which will make others feel left out. It becomes a programme for all of us.

She said the programme would be conjoined, with psychologists, employee wellness practitioners, and social workers on one hand; as well as the chaplaincy, led by Bishop Mthokozisi Luvuno and his team. They would be trained on how to assess and refer staff accordingly.

So, if you don't want a psychologist, we'll offer you spiritual support."

Turning to the Forensic Pathology Services and Emergency Medical Services staff in attendance, MEC Simelane said: "We acknowledge that none of you are machines. You're as human as the rest of us. For instance, many of you are often exposed to some of the most traumatic and gruesome scenes imaginable. You sometimes have to deal with dismembered bodies and piece them back together. How many of us would be able to put up with that? Not many. So, why do we think they can make it through that environment when we don't give them the support they need?

"So, as a Department we have a responsibility to ensure we provide them with that support. We are at a point right now where we're beginning to provide that support, and we want to do it vigorously.

"We know that the programme has been in existence, but it's never been enough. We're starting afresh now, and going full-scale. Given that we're now in the December holidays, there'll be a lot of road crashes. That is why we are launching this programme now. We want to ensure that we're available to assist on all the national roads."

The MEC pleaded with staff across the board to protect their psychological wellbeing and have an open mind.

"When we request you to go and get psychological assistance, please do it. This works as a two way street: while we have a responsibility to provide this service, it will not help you if you don't think it's necessary.

"We are at a point right now where we're beginning to provide that support, and we want to do it vigorously. As we continue, all of us must know where to go if we need a psychologist or chaplain. Let's all embrace this programme, and make a commitment that we will participate in it.

"If you get referred to this programme, please allow yourselves to look inward and be honest, and say, 'Yes, it looks like I need to be seen by a professional who can help with my situation or condition.' Ours is to ensure you get the support that you require."

Issued by the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health

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