Coun­sel­ing en­sures men­tal well-be­ing of med­i­cal teams

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD REVIEW - By ZHAO YANRONG

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.

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