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Researchers from the University of York pilot mental health training programme for nurses amid the Ebola outbreak

Posted on 29 May 2015

A feasibility study funded by C2D2 helped to leverage funding to support delivery of the training programme

Communities were torn apart as the outbreak quickly became a global health crisis – The World Health Organisation believes nearly 27,000 people contracted the virus with more than 11,000 dying from it.

The case numbers are now dropping and in Sierra Leone there is a shift towards a recovery phase.

However, with limited resources there is still an urgent need to address the psychosocial needs of individuals and families by enhancing the skills of health workers on the ground.

Academics from the University of York’s International Centre for Mental Health Social Research have visited the country three times in the past two years to carry out a feasibility study.The training was funded by Maudsley Charity and the feasibility study was funded by C2D2.

More recently they helped train a group of 20 nurses, the first cohort to ever receive mental health training in Sierra Leone. They are now placed in 14 districts to lead mental health services across the country. 

The Sababu Training Programme offers techniques for training mental health workers within a social intervention framework. In Krio, the local language, ‘sababu’ means connections with other people.

The team had always planned to deliver mental health training to nurses before the Ebola outbreak, however when it took hold the team shifted the focus of the training to address the changing needs of the communities. 

Meredith Newlin, who travelled to Freetown in Sierra Leone in April, said:  “Highlighting the importance of building and maintaining relationships with other supportive people in their communities, we spent a full day training the nurses in social network mapping.

“When it came time to practice using this approach with service users in role-play, it was clear that writing is not always possible - stationery may be unavailable and people may not be able to read and write.”

The researchers used hand movements to discuss social networks. The technique involved the nurses listing five supportive figures, one on each finger, on the palm to imagine enjoyable activities and the wrist as a place to imagine a comforting proverb.

Meredith Newlin added: “Although it wasn’t immediately welcomed, our style of interactive training, with a great deal of practice through role plays and encouraging the quiet nurses to be actively involved, was eventually appreciated and valued by the group.” 

The report author plans to return to the country later this year to evaluate the success of the programme.

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