JEDDAH: While the Saudi Ministry of Health is exerting all efforts to combat the coronavirus, psychological support to those affected is an acknowledged aspect in the fight against the virus.
Dr. Nawaf Al-Harthi, general supervisor of Irada Mental Health Complex, shed light on the medical staff providing psychological support for COVID-19 patients and their families.
He said that the complex has a team consisting of a social worker, a psychologist and a psychiatrist, among the services made available to patients or those who are precautionarily quarantined.
Dr. Al-Harthi said that the social worker starts by getting to know the patient and determining their capabilities, issues, difficulties, social situation as well as know their health state if they suffer from any chronic diseases. If any person, who either does or does not have a mental disorder, suffers from psychological symptoms, he or she will be referred to a psychologist. “We have a full medical, social and psychosocial team ready to treat all patients who are quarantined,” he said.
The psychologist diagnoses the case to see if it requires psychological support, which will be carried out either through sessions, relaxation and altering mindsets through behavioral programs.
If the psychologist sees that the patient is not responding and needs medical intervention, Dr. Al-Harthi said, he will contact the psychiatrist.
The psychiatrist sits with the patient and diagnoses the psychological problem that he suffers from and its effects. He also measures the level of psychological fatigue — whether it is anxiety, depression, fear, psychosis or addiction — after which the psychiatrist determines the appropriate treatment and then follows-up until the patient completes his quarantine or leaves the hospital.
Dr. Al-Harthi said that there were teams offering psychological and social support at the Ministry of Health for those who needed it, whether they were in hospital or in quarantine, and they would be treated if any psychological damage was found.
“Some are affected by fear, obsession and anxiety from the disease and also because of the quarantine and lifestyle changes,” he said. These cases were considered simple and patients could bypass them, but if psychological assistance or drug prescriptions were necessary, these cases would be dealt with carefully.
Dr. Al-Harthi said that among the services provided by the ministry was a medical team dedicated to psychological support for those infected and their families, through social media and a call center on 937.
If the cases required more support, they would be directed to the proper department at health centers.
The centers have direct numbers for communication and sites that provide assistance, either through phone calls, social media or telemedicine where they are contacted and followed up and, if necessary, given appointments to visit a clinic.
He said that there was a mental health guidebook for dealing with COVID-19 patients, as well as a guidebook for health workers who were exposed to psychological stress due to working with the patients.
“Psychological symptoms are likely to arise because of fear, depression and anxiety from the disease, but most of the time these symptoms disappear with the disappearance of the infection,” Dr. Al-Harthi said. “This is what we call compatibility disorder, which is a psychological crisis that arises due to certain conditions. With the disappearance of these conditions, the psychological crisis disappears as well.”
He said that the elderly and children were dealt with in a special way, as they often had a sensitivity to mental disorders as their responses to them and fear were likely to be high, and their ability to endure these low, putting them in a special category.
Dr. Al-Harthi said that there were cases of anxiety over fears of coronavirus infection that were passed on to children, adding that the more parents suffered from excessive anxiety, the higher the probability was of conveying anxiety and fear to children.
“In terms of procedures and advice, we teach parents and guide them in what is called ‘Break the News’ to pave the way for children and to avoid the state of panic and anxiety that may affect them and treat it,” he said. “But if fear calls for greater intervention, we need, in this case, to see the child who has exaggerated anxiety. We conduct therapy sessions and either behavioral or mindset-altering programs, or prescribe drugs in some cases.”