Psychologist couple helping patients through pandemic

December, 29/2021 - 09:50

While Trương Thị Hồng Hà was busy in a field hospital as a volunteer psychology consultant for COVID-19 patients, her husband Ngô Xuân Điệp was at home working on the ‘Vaccine for Mental Health’ programme, which provides online mental healthcare.

Hà and Điệp next to their two children. — Photo courtesy of Trương Thị Hồng Hà and Ngô Xuân Điệp

HCM CITY — While Trương Thị Hồng Hà was busy in a field hospital as a volunteer psychology consultant for COVID-19 patients, her husband Ngô Xuân Điệp was at home working on the ‘Vaccine for Mental Health’ programme, which provides online mental healthcare.

Both husband and wife were working in psychology before the pandemic: Điệp is the head of the Faculty of Psychology at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities (Vietnam National University – HCM City), and Hà works as the director of Tường Minh Support Centre for the development of inclusive education, according to Thanh niên (Youth) newspaper. 

After months of volunteering at Field Hospital No. 12 in Thủ Đức City in HCM City, Hà gained the nickname: head of the “steering committee in the fight for mental health.”

The title was given to her by Hùng, an elderly COVID-19 patient who once thought he could not make it through the disease and insisted on taking his last breath at home. 

During his stay at the hospital, however, he received not only treatment from doctors but also a “vaccine for mental health” from volunteer psychological consultants like Hà. 

Having recovered from the virus, Hùng has been able to return to his home in District 3.

Going beyond mental health support, Hà and volunteers even took care of severe patients whose families weren’t able to be by their side: from helping them eat and wash, to using the restroom. 

Hà (right) taking care of a patient infected with the coronavirus. — Photo thanhnien.vn

Hà’s family did not oppose her working in the field hospital, but they thought she would be disqualified because of her lithe physique and low blood pressure.

Yet only two days after receiving the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, Hà and the volunteers were present in Field Hospital No. 12, right at the peak of the outbreak. 

On her first day, Hà fainted while attending to patients, exhausted due to excessive moving and overwhelmed by the number of patients needing psychological care. 

Despite people's doubts, she put on her protective gear and headed straight back out to support the infected.

In over two months working at the hospital, Hà attended to over 300 COVID-19 patients.

"I realise that my work in psychology can save many people," said Hà.

"In this field hospital, I get to do what I wish and can connect with a network of consultants outside to help the patients."

Meanwhile, at home, her husband Điệp takes care of their family so that Hà can rest assured and focus on her job.

Điệp, a doctor, said: "At that time the outbreak was very complicated, and I was extremely worried about her health."

"Apart from encouraging each other, we are both working in the same field, so we can share our thoughts on difficult cases."

Điệp said he fell into his own psychological crisis when his wife was away.

He had gone to an area where transmissions were detected, and thought he was infected.

"I stayed alone in a room to isolate myself from my two children and my mother. My wife gave me support and encouragement from afar," he said.

The couple both joined the HCM City University of Social Sciences and Humanities' 'Vaccine for mental health' - a programme aiming to provide mental health support free-of-charge amid the pandemic.

Điệp is also a specialist coordinator on consultation and therapy for patients with mental crises, or experiencing anxiety and depression.

In November, their family was infected with COVID-19, but Hà remained willing to continue her work as a mental support provider for coronavirus patients, especially children.

Điệp said that sometimes when he returned home, he wished his wife would play the traditional role of a woman.

"Then I realise that if we keep following old and conservative ways, we can never explore and invent new, valuable things," Điệp said.

"Each person only lives once, so they must find the meaning of their life, and when they are happy with it we have to respect that." — VNS