“My task is to provide psychological first aid to population during the pandemic”

Sandugash Kudaibergenova, psychologist in Kazakhstan, shares her experience of online consultations

Elvira Yausheva
Sandugash Kudaibergenova
UNICEF Kazakhstan/2020/Zhanara Karimova
09 October 2020

COVID-19 influenced all aspects of life and changed the usual routine in every family in Kazakhstan. Health threats, lockdown, economic problems and self-isolation accompany the pandemic and profoundly impact the mental health of the population. In a turmoil of uncertainty and constantly shifting living conditions people may experience psychological problems. Concerned with a threat to get infected with coronavirus the majority decides to avoid visiting psychologists in the healthcare facilities.

Aiming to address the emerging needs for psychological support during the COVID-19 outbreak UNICEF Kazakhstan jointly with the National Centre for Mental Health of the Ministry of Healthcare (NCMH) of the Republic of Kazakhstan with the financial support of Citi Foundation launched a special website to give information and serve as a platform for individual online counselling services meeting the needs of population for psychological assistance and support during the pandemic.

online counsellor
UNICEF Kazakhstan/2020/Zhanara Karimova

Sandugash Kudaibergenova, one of the website online counsellors, explains: “Anyone can contact the website operator, who sets a convenient time for a client. Usually the consultation is organized through Zoom or WhatsApp. Duration varies from 30 minutes to 1 hour. The client can come to the consultation again. My task in this project is to support specialists, maintain a page, as well as conduct psychological consultations for people who demand. When there was an outbreak in Kazakhstan and there were a lot of losses, I delivered a special workshop on losses.” Sandugash has the degree of the Candidate of Psychological Sciences, she is the participant of the project on psychological support and assistance to the population during the COVID-19 outbreak.

To date 306 online consultations have been conducted and 80 written applications were processed. Emotional disturbances, anxiety, fears are among the most popular themes in demand. 15% of customers return for additional consultations.

The psychologist notes: “In my practice, people approach me for the support with different issues. About 40% have the COVID-19-related problems. For example, I'm afraid to reach to the door. 60% in general, have problems with relationships, aggravation of panic attacks, depression. There are more requests for emotional assistance. Mostly young people aged 17-30 apply. The isolation heightens old problems. For example, learning difficulties, coping with stress.”

Sandugash Kudaibergenova
UNICEF Kazakhstan/2020/Zhanara Karimova

Sandugash’s client, girl, age 19, shares her personal experience: “I had a chance to get myself talking. For a certain period, about two or three months, I had a very depressive apathetic state, and I just did not know why it happens. Then I found out about this project and received feedback from a psychologist. It has given me a clarity of why this happened to me and how to prevent this in the future. I decided to try and reach for assistance through this website - since there were so many specialists and UNICEF participation. I have already gone through three sessions and in fact I am very happy because it is such a good feedback for me. They ask questions and give advice that helps a lot and just gets easier somehow. I think this is a very good project that people really need.”

Another customer thanks the project as it helped her successfully accomplish the doctor thesis and its defense, which she wanted to abandon being in a difficult emotional state.

“Once we were approached by a logistics company, which had many deaths. We held consultations, organized through HR,” recalls Sandugash. “It appeared that people need such assistance, especially people from the regions often apply. This project made it possible to access qualified specialists”.

psychologist
UNICEF Kazakhstan/2020/Zhanara Karimova

A team of 58 online counselling specialists has been selected throughout the country from over 100 psychologists, psychotherapists and psychiatrists who volunteered to become online counsellors. Sandugash explains: “The selection of specialists was tough, work experience was required, as well as teamwork with doctors - psychotherapists, psychiatrists”.

The website also provides tips for parents and children on how to relieve stress and anxiety, improve your well-being, and talk with your child during the pandemic. Addressing the existing demand in professional capacity building and development among psychologists, in May 2020, with the USAID financial support UNICEF launched a new page for school psychologists offering counselling services for case management and supervision under the joint action plan with the Ministry of Education and Science (MOES) and NCMH. Online training and guidelines with practical tips and exercises were made accessible for school psychologists from all 17 regions of Kazakhstan, including remote settlements with limited Internet connectivity.

Sandugash Kudaibergenova
UNICEF Kazakhstan/2020/Zhanara Karimova

Sandugash sums up: “The project is good because it also motivates psychologists to further improve their qualifications, to understand more of clinical psychology. Thus, the resource capacity of specialists increases.”