Boosting healthcare workers' mental well-being

Patient service associate Mastan Nachiyal sometimes finds work overwhelming and needs to step aside to calm down.
Patient service associate Mastan Nachiyal sometimes finds work overwhelming and needs to step aside to calm down.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Working as a patient service associate in Tan Tock Seng Hospital, Mrs Mastan Nachiyal can find some days overwhelming.

When phones ring off the hook and patients are being exceptionally demanding, she sometimes has to step aside, take a deep breath and calm down.

These feelings are not uncommon among her colleagues, said Mrs Mastan, 54.

"Sometimes we are angry inside," she said. "But we are the front-liners and we have to be tactful."

Two organisations have teamed up to promote mental well-being among healthcare workers - an area that they feel is currently "under-served".

The Healthcare Services Employees' Union (HSEU) - which represents over 40,000 healthcare workers - and the Association of Psychotherapists and Counsellors (Singapore) formalised their collaboration yesterday.

The move was supported by the National Trades Union Congress.

"This is an industry of caregiving, and like all caregivers, (healthcare workers) are subjected to much stress," said HSEU president K. Thanaletchimi. "They are also human and there are ups and downs in their lives... these people also need help at times."

The organisations plan to address the stigma surrounding mental health issues and will offer counselling sessions for healthcare workers. They are also planning to help uplift professional standards for psychotherapists.

The long-term goal, said Ms Thanaletchimi, is to have a walk-in service where healthcare workers can seek help whenever they are in need.

"We need to convince employers to embrace this as part of workplace health and safety," she added.

Some healthcare organisations, such as the National University Hospital and Singapore General Hospital (SGH), already have counselling programmes to help staff cope with work-related issues.

The National Healthcare Group said it also organises talks and allows flexible work arrangements for staff.

Ms Sherylene Heah, a senior medical social worker at SGH, said her workplace has a peer support system to help staff who may be emotionally affected by incidents at work. "A peer supporter is a trained volunteer who provides psychological first aid to staff who are emotionally affected by a critical incident. (They also) act as a point of access to professional help, if needed."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 27, 2017, with the headline 'Boosting healthcare workers' mental well-being'. Subscribe