A COVID-19 special: Need for mental support

Empower Pacific chief executive officer Patrick Morgam (right) with Regional Clinical Supervisor and Mental Health Specialist Prem Singh at their office in Lautoka. Picture: REINAL CHAND

EMPOWER Pacific provided counselling support service to more than 3920 Fijians from April to mid-September this year. With the increasing number of domestic cases recorded during the pandemic, most calls were mainly from Fijians who needed psychological and mental health support. Questions sent were answered by Patrick Morgam, Empower Pacific’s chief executive officer:

Times: Apart from counselling support services can you name the other kinds of services provided by Empower Pacific during the pandemic?

Patrick Morgam: We offer a variety of programs aimed at enhancing the health and wellbeing of our clients. Apart from Counselling Services, Empower offers other vital services such as:  Interventions to reduce gender-based violence  Social Work interventions  Child Protection Counselling  Employee Assistance Program  Psychological First Aid following disasters  Facilitating Diploma & Certificate in Counselling courses with USP  Specialised Counselling and voluntary HIV Testing Program More specific and in-depth information on the services mentioned above can be obtained from our Empower Pacific website at www.empowerpacifi c.com or our Facebook page.

Times: Reports published by The Fiji Times revealed that domestic violence cases in the country have increased drastically since the pandemic. What’s your stand on this and what do you think caused domestic violence cases to increase?

Patrick Morgam: Our stand on this is that yes, there could be a significant rise in the number of domestic violence cases, abuse and rape during this pandemic simply because of the disruption in an individual’s social and protective networks, loss of income and decreased physical access to essential services to address issues as such. For example when an individual is requested to be in-home isolation for 14 days and is undergoing domestic violence — with the COVID restrictions associated with home isolation, the individual is trapped with the abuser and has no way of reaching out hence his/her social and protective network that she can reach out cannot help at that time due to the restrictions. Also, going through the cycle of abuse and in isolation is a dangerous thing as they cannot leave the home to access safety or relevant essential services to address their issue of domestic violence,hence the victim almost usually suffers in silence. The same goes for rape and abuse of Women and Girls. During this pandemic, predators take the opportunity to exploit the vulnerable including the children.

Times: How many people does Empower Pacific assist in a day?

Patrick Morgam: Empower Pacific has its referral pathways from the major three divisional hospitals in Suva, Lautoka and Labasa. There is also the 24/7 Counselling helpline and community-based clients that are identifi ed through the provision of Psychological First Aid and those who simply walk in requesting for relevant services. In a day, those referral pathways are ongoing and Empower Pacific can see up to five to seven people per counsellor and social worker throughout our branches located at Suva, Nadi; Lautoka and Labasa. We also care for our staff members mental health and wellbeing as well so in having staff attending to this number of clients, our staff are able to manage and provide the holistic services needed of the client. But either than that the total number of individuals that access our services per day through those referral pathways range from 38 – 45 clients.

Times: How does the organisation assist COVID-19 patients?

Patrick Morgam: As part of our service delivery in partnership with the Ministry of Health & Medical Services and other essential donor funded programs mainly from the Australian Aid- DFAT and New Zealand Aid- MFAT, we have the responsibility of providing Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Services via tele and face to face to COVID19 positive patients in Hospitals, families and individuals in home isolation and government assigned quarantine facilities. We also provide MHPSS support to frontliners heading the fight against COVID19 in the three major hospitals and in the various quarantine centers this is not limited to centresour security forces as well as personnel at the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) and other CSO’s Partners.

Times: What were some challenges the organisation faces?

Patrick Morgam: Some of the challenges that we faced as an organisation is the need to suddenly shift our services from face to face to tele as when the pandemic hit our shores and the restrictions were in place we had to reorganise our services to fit the situation. We addressed it by falling back on our referral pathways and reorganising our work structure to fit the situation and so far we have successfully been able to provide our much-needed services to many Fijians Fiji wide. Initially, we had faced difficulties in obtaining peoples contacts that had been placed under home isolation/C-19 positive cases and are really grateful to the Ministry of Health & Medical Services for their positive support. Likewise, our donors in providing funding support including for the advertisements to promote our 24/7 Counselling Helpline. This way, our counselling services message through the Radio, TV, Print media and Facebook was delivered across the nation and people were able to call themselves when they needed that vital support.

Times: Any message to the public or relevant comments

Patrick Morgam: Everyone needs a listening ear once in a whilethese and our services provide that moral support and relevant interventions to help an individual during this troublesome times. As the saying goes “No man is an island” hence this simply means that no one is self–sufficient, everyone must rely on someone’s company and the comfort of other in order to thrive. So we encourage individuals struggling in whatever way during these troublesome times to just pick up the phone and simply dial 5626 which is our 24/7 toll-free helpline number and reach out in order to get the supported needed from professional Counsellors and Social Workers on standby at Empower Pacific

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