An essential psychosocial support during the pandemic of COVID-19

The expertise of Première Urgence Internationale within the field of mental health and psychosocial support is constantly developing across all missions. The France mission is a good example of this inclusion and of the integrated approach.

COVID-19 dispositif de soutien psychosocial par Première Urgence Internationale

May 6th 2020, L’Haÿ-les-Roses, Paris, France. Health mediators from Première Urgence Internationale give advice on how to stay safe during the Covid-19 outbreak to Romani migrants living within an encampment in the Parisian suburb of L’Haÿ-les-Roses. © George Nickels/Première Urgence Internationale

Mélissa Robichon, Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Advisor at Première Urgence Internationale and Léa Dumas, Psychosocial Support Officer at the France mission, will tell us about this mission and about the importance of the sector of mental health in a mission particularly during the pandemic of COVID-19.

Can you explain us your role at Première Urgence Internationale and specifically at the France mission?

Mélissa: My role at the headquarter of Première Urgence Internationale is to offer a technical support, to think about the orientation of activities, and particularly to adjust them and propose a future strategy by integrating mental health to other sectors. In this moment, I am focusing on the support of the activities related to the COVID-19: to understand the needs and propose improvements to the current projects.
Léa: Normally, I manage the psychosocial support and the follow-up of the people at the welcoming center of Ivry-sur-Seine and the animation part of the sociolinguistics workshop on different themes. For example, we have a “well-being” workshop, where we propose a moment to exchange outside of the center. Also, we have another activity in construction: a support group for women living in squats and slums.
Nowadays, these activities are stopped because of the sanitary situation caused by the COVID-19. We had to adapt our activities to the actual needs.

How this psychological aspect has been integrated in the France mission?

Mélissa: The goal, in the context of COVID-19, is to maintain a psychological support on every mission. We must not stop the activities but adjust them to continue to answer the needs of children, adults and teenagers. We must help people, which have specific needs, by respecting the sanitary rules.
That’s why the mobile team of the France mission offers also a psychosocial care to people with anxious or depressive reactions, because of the situation. Also, we offer support to children in understanding the COVID-19.
Léa: As Mélissa says, maintaining the social link is a fundamental aspect of our work. During the pandemic we did it through:

  • WhatsApp groups (app of free messenger) to transfer information and to fight “fake news”. But also transfer clary and useful information and positive messages.
  • The follow-up via phone calls once a week, to collect information on the situation of everyone, individually. That’s how we can know if there are complicated situations and bring our help (for example if the person is isolated in a social hotel).
  • Ideas activities to fight the boredom and psychological problems, by propose videos, cooking recipes, relaxation methods, sports exercise… It’s same as the “well-being” group remote.

 What are the needs of the populations that you met?

Mélissa: This period was difficult for everyone. Difficulties vary depending on the person. That’s why the exchange is very important. It all depends of resources of everyone before the confinement. So, taking the time to exchange with the person is important for establish his or her needs.
There are more complicated moments to overcome and other moment where we are more resilient. There is a conscience of our general vulnerability. Sometimes, for some people, a change in their world vision. At times, deep discussions are necessary.
Generally, the context of COVID-19 has exacerbated the rupture with social links and physical inactivity, major factors of depression.

What is the reaction of children during the pandemic?

COVID-19 psychosocial support by Première Urgence Internationale
Léa: There are many cases, for some homes, access to information is very important, so it’s hard to understand, to talk about this subject to their parents that are already worried. For others, there is no access to information, sometimes with many “fake news”. The only information is about school closings and about the confinement. Some homes do not access to electricity, so access to information is more complicated and exacerbate worries.
So we have propose activities in squats and slums during the intervention of mobile clinics, for children between 4 and 14 years old who speak at least basically French and go to school.
We also used the “Covibook”, a little book, created by Manuela Molina, to explain more easily, in a funnier and less scary way than adults or television, the situation of COVID-19.
We propose an awareness moment about barrier gesture and encourage the expression of emotions with drawings: it’s a real space of freedom. This moment allows the children to share their emotions, their worries, their questions… This way of communicating with children worked very well.
COVID-19 psychosocial support by Première Urgence Internationale

How were you able to support mental health on the team?

Mélissa: The COVID-19 generated a great awareness of psychological distress, about its impact and the need to offer a support to the employees. For the first time, everyone is concerned, we experience the importance of the mental health, and we understand that this psychological part should not be neglected.
The France mission gives a good example of taking care of the needs of the staff and the integrated approach: I try to work on every mission in this way.
Léa: The support of the teams was very important at the beginning of the project, with a phase of training and discussion of possible problems on the missions. Then, we established a briefing and a debriefing with teams on the field. It was an opportunity for every person to explain their feelings and experiences. It’s an essential time for exchange, more important in this moment that we are living.
The teams were very busy in the field, meeting extremely precarious situations caused by the COVID-19, but not only. So it was very important to exchange with teams and then readjust the behaviors on the field: How to present yourself to people? How to communicate between nurse and psychologist in the mobile clinics…
It’s a teamwork, so the communication is essential for the success of the mission.
For act effectively in terms of awareness, the communication must be good.

On this emergency response to COVID-19, the NGO intervenes with the support of the Regional Health Agency the Sanofi Espoir Foundation, the Abbé Pierre Foundation and the association La Chaîne de l’Espoir.

Discover also La Chronique N131 about mental health and protection at Première Urgence Internationale:

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