“Every time I left the house, I wondered if I would be coming back. It was like going into battle.”
Hema Thapa is a nurse administrator at the Narayani Hospital in Birgunj in Parsa District in southern Nepal.
She was on the frontlines of the COVID-19 crisis when the pandemic had just begun its spread in the country. Hema, was few of the first responders at the hospital who treated the first COVID-19 case in Birgunj. She recalls a period of extreme stress, uncertainty and fear-so much so that they didn't even know a proper way to wear a PPE.
She spent extended time away from family working in two-week shifts and 12 hours per day at the isolation ward. After her shift was over, Hema and her team had to quarantine themselves for another two weeks before going back to their families. These stretched working hours, under extremely stressful conditions, while being separated from loved ones, took a toll on Hema and her team members. It was the virus they all talked about, thought about.
But soon Hema realized the extreme stress her team was undergoing. Even though she was scared, she made sure to keep the team spirit alive by keeping her brave front and her fear at bay. She was always the one who motivated her team members and tried to spark positivity within adversity. Hema understood the unique mental health challenges faced by health-workers mobilized in COVID-19 response including herself.
Reflecting on the mental health impacts of the COVID-19 she undertook online counselling sessions for frontline health-workers with the support provided by UNICEF Nepal. The sessions helped her share her worries and fears associated with working in COVID-19 conditions, and include discussions on the different ways in which stress and mental health problems can manifest in people, recommendations related to sleep hygiene, routine modification and exercises that healthworkers can undertake to relax, as well as some ways they can take care of the mental health of their children and families.