Illustration of woman sitting at a desk and using her phone at night with a facemask in front of her. For Speak Up COVID article

Speak Up COVID: Free psychological support for frontline health workers in Lebanon

Free and confidential psychological support is being offered to frontline health workers in Lebanon through Speak Up COVID, an independent initiative born out of the individual effort of licensed psychologists.

The new initiative comes as Lebanon’s under-equipped medical sector battles the novel coronavirus pandemic, which has placed physicians, nurses, paramedics, and all other heroes on the frontline under tremendous pressure.

“We’re offering immediate psychological support, also known as psychological first-aid,” said Luma Naccache, a licensed clinical psychologist and psychotherapist who is a member of Speak Up COVID.

The repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic on the mental well-being of healthcare workers could last for months and even years, according to Naccache, which is why Speak Up COVID is offering various kinds of psychological support for the outbreak’s different phases –the emergence and the aftermath.

The dynamic new project started with psychologists reaching out to each other, and now involves 26 experts who healthcare workers can talk to in support sessions being held over the phone. Those in the medical sector can reach Speak Up COVID by calling +𝟵𝟲𝟭-𝟳𝟵-𝟭𝟮𝟬𝟱𝟳𝟬.

“It’s a completely confidential service,” reassured Naccache, shedding light on the stigma surrounding mental health in Lebanon. “They don’t need to say their names, we follow-up with them, and the sessions are free.”

Naccache also understands that “frontliners are very busy mentally at the moment,” are focused on performing their duties, and might not think of the need to seek out help. The psychologist gave the example of sailors at sea during a storm. “They’re busy trying to float and focusing on getting to shore. When they get there, a lot of new emotions sink into place.”

With that in mind, Speak Up COVID is meant to offer an easy and accessible way for medical workers to reach out and talk to qualified mental health experts who can help them push through and get back to doing their jobs effectively.

Nurses and doctors across hospitals in Lebanon previously shared their difficult COVID-19 testimonials, affirming the need for efforts like Speakup COVID.

““I cry every day. I feel lonely and sad,” Salma (alias), a nurse working in the coronavirus unit of a Lebanese hospital, told Beirut Today in a previous interview. “With the increasing pressures of work comes anxiety and insomnia.”

Aside from the workload, many on the frontline are not trained to deal with such an outbreak and fear making the wrong decisions in a life or death situation. Naccache also highlights the human component of the outbreak, which “takes you away from your loved ones” for fear of infecting them after spending so much time at the hospital.

Medical workers are finding themselves alone and isolated from their usual support circles. For instance, Salma no longer sees her parents because they are of old age. Friends and colleagues have also distanced themselves from her after finding out she decided to work with COVID-19 patients.

Healthcare workers in hospitals not treating the novel coronavirus are under similar pressure. They fear the possibility of a greater outbreak that forces their hospitals to open its doors to treat COVID-19, as well as asymptomatic patients walking in with any other illness but passing the coronavirus on to them.

“It’s also about the potentiality of it. COVID-19 is invisible and not very well understood yet,” mentioned the psychologist.

The kind of support being offered by Speak Up COVID fills in a much-needed gap as Lebanon’s medical sector deals with the pressures of both a pandemic and the worst financial crisis that the country has experienced in decades.

“We don’t know how long the coronavirus is going to continue,” said Naccache. “But we plan to keep the initiative going for as long as it is needed.”