EHS-COVID (394) Impact of COVID-19 on mental health of health workers (3) COVID-19 stigma

10 June, 2021

Dear Colleagues,

The covid-19 pandemic has been working as an eye opener in the health system. Revealing the strength and weaknesses of the system.

The covid-19 is showing that health worker's mental health and Well-being is not sufficiently taking care of. The covid-19 has acted as an additional stressor in the workplace. Work place mental health for example in the hospital is a taboo in Cameroon.

During the early onset of the covid 19 pandemic, in June 2020 I was fortunate to receive a state registered nurse. She was hospitalized in my hospital for a mental health crisis that occured in her work place. In one of my sessions with her, she disclosed to me that prior to her having the mental health crisis she had undergone two major events which angered her on the one hand and traumatized her on the second hand. I will mention just one of the situations relating to my discussion.

She told me she was diagnosed with covid-19 while in service in this public hospital where she has been working for almost ten years. Immediately her status was known she was stigmatized and did not receive the care she needed. She told me this attitude and behavior of the hospital angered her extremely as she had been working very hard prior to the covid-19 and was expecting from the management some more consideration. She mentioned that this situation was traumatic to her. Moreover, it should be said that the news of her "becoming mad" in the hospital further stigmatized her, hampering her recovery. But since she was passionate about her work she was still resilient.

When I had the session with her she had not yet done here control test. Since she was not managed by the hospital I could not know if she was covid-19 free or not. It meant i myself could have been infected. She had told me it is thanks to certain traditional medication with hydrocholoroquine which she managed to get, I don't remember the other drug that she got well.

Yes, the mental health of health workers in Cameroon is not a priority. It took time for me to enable the administration of this nurse to understand that she had a mental health condition which was also related to her work place (the hospital). That her work load should be reconsidered.

I strongly believe that during the covid-19 the mental health of many health workers has declined. Covid-19 as an additional stressor, coupled with the poor working conditions, extreme work loads has certainly aggravated the mental health of the health workers.

The work of Feteh et al. (2017) titled : Prevalence and determinants of burnout syndrome amongst physicians in Cameroon: a research proposal, is revealing of the grave lack of information on the mental health of cameroonians health workers. To the best of my knowledge the epidemiology of mental health conditions in the health work force is not known. This can be understood since mental health in Cameroon is still not receiving the necessary attention it should.

The covid-19 has fragilized the health work force but strengthened the health system. But with a demoralized health work force, possible issues of burnout, depression, trauma, and generalized anxiety disorder due to the experiences of health workers, the assets the system has acquired might quickly be less suistainable.

The experience of that 47 old nurse i am sure is just an infinitesimal example.

The work of Feteh et al. (2017) hoping they finally did the research puts to the forefront the health and mental health needs of health workers in Cameroon and its implications for the performance of the health system as a whole.

Health policies, work place policies in cameroon should make mental health a priority. As health workers who are in good mental health work better.

Mental health is a fundamental human health right, violation of this right is sadly a reality lived by health workers, workers in general, and patients as well in Cameroon

We are optimistic as we are working in collaboration with the mental health department of the ministry of public health to make this attitude improve in support of mental health for all. An imperative necessity for universal health coverage.

Best wishes,

Didier Demassosso

HIFA Country Representative Coordinator Afro Region

Mental Health Innovation Network Africa (MHIN) knowledge Exchange Assistant

HIFA profile: Didier Demassosso is a mental health practitioner, Consultant (WHO, MoPH Cameroon...), Mental health advocate, Youth advocate with 10 years experience in mental health development in Cameroon. He is also a health communicator and educationist. HIFA Country Representative For Cameroon/ HIFA Country Representative of the year 2014 / Regional Coordinator for Africa. He also currently volunteers for the Mental Health Innovation Network Africa as Knowledge Exchange Assistant.

Email: didier.demassosso AT