Counseling ensures mental well-being of medical teams
In their UN peacekeeping missions today, Chinese military doctors and nurses must heal people’s minds as well as their bodies.
“From now on, providing counseling is not a secondary concern, but a necessity in our peacekeeping missions,” said Yan Zhigang, director of a 43-member Chinese military medical crew.
“We have national-level psychological counselors certified by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security. And we have more medical staff studying to be counselors,” he said.
Yan’s medical team and a military engineering crew completed their final preparations at a Beijing peacekeeping training center before heading out on a UN peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in August.
Yan said the Chinese medical crew serves all UN peacekeepers and clinics as well as local people.
“Psychological and mental problems are as important as physical illnesses. The peacekeeping mission can be very challenging, so peacekeepers need to maintain good psychological health to accomplish missions and maintain the country’s stability,” Yan said.
Faced with a turbulent society, rampant diseases and a tough living environment with a shortage of supplies, all peacekeepers, regardless of their mission, can develop mental health problems. The PLA Daily reported that in 2010, a Chinese medical crew prevented a female peacekeeper from a South American country from trying to commit suicide in the DRC. The peacekeeper had been experiencing strong homesickness and anxiety.
“During an eight-month term, a peacekeeper’s feelings can change from strength and optimism to depression and anxiety,” Xing Wenrong, former director of the Chinese military medical crew in the DRC’s 2009 peacekeeping mission, told the newspaper.
Peacekeepers can become homesick and get angry and emotional quite easily during the second half of their missions. If they are depressed, they may remain silent for a long time, or cry inexplicably, or argue frequently with other peacekeepers, Xing said.
Yang Hong, head nurse and a certified counselor with the medical crew, is on her second tour as a peacekeeper in the DRC.
“When I first worked in the country in 2005, the telecommunications technology was not as good as it is today. It was very expensive to make phone calls back to China, and the signals were always bad. Because we could not contact our families much, it was hard to avoid being lonely,” Yang said.
“There were also cases we seldom met in China, such as bullet wounds and malaria. The new challenges at work created a lot of pressure in our life in Africa so we needed psychological counseling,” she added.
During their preparation in Beijing, the medical and technical crews receive specific training to adapt to a completely closed environment, without cellphone contact to family and friends, for a week.
In addition to giving psychological counseling, the medical staff also needs to manage more general medical skills.
Yan, the director, said: “As a surgeon, I should be capable of performing a gynecological surgery as well as an abdominal surgery. I can do orthopedic surgery and will also teach local doctors my skills.”
The average age of the medical crew is 31, which is a bit older than that of the engineering troops. Because of their ages and occupations, they boost their physical energy with sports, including basketball and soccer, on the weekends during training in Beijing.
And they aim to improve their language skills.
“English will be our working language there. We can understand what we read in English, but our speaking is not good enough yet, so we encourage the team to speak in English to each other, even when we are still in Beijing,” Yan said.
“With better communications skills, we can provide better service in Africa.”
Chinese peacekeepers hold an emergency assistance drill at a Beijing training center in June before heading out on a UN peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.