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16 July 2020

From distress to a meaningful experience; how a King's alumnus and Doctor is helping frontline staff deal with COVID-19

Dr Muhammad Haniff Bin Abdullah (MSc War & Psychiatry, 2017) looks after the mental health of frontline staff in Selayang Hospital in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Two doctors with facemasks on stand in front of a blue background with 'Hospital Selayang' written above their heads

‘The Covid-19 pandemic is a very different type of disaster’ says Dr Muhammad Haniff Bin Abdullah.

As the lead for the Mental Health and Psychosocial Support task-force, Haniff coordinates the hospital’s mental health response providing coping strategies for staff.

‘Our society is in isolation, many of our healthcare workers have had to become “front-liners” and the red-zone is the hospital itself. The need to work in already highly challenging duties in a more constrained manner in the face of trauma means staff are at high risk of developing mental health issues. Whether someone develops a long-term psychological injury is influenced by the way they are supported before, during and after a challenging incident.’

One of his initiatives has been to create a ‘MyCOVID-19’ journal for staff to capture their experiences. It includes daily objectives such as; establishing routine, practising gratitude and gratefulness, remembering meaningful connections, checking wellbeing and writing a message to your future self. ‘It’s difficult to help our staff without face-to-face communication. Their schedule is hectic and the way they work has changed. We have to find innovative ways to engage with them. And to manage the contagion aspects, the team has experimented a lot with technological manoeuvres.’

The journal helps transform staff’s narrative from distress to a meaningful journey. In the face of so much data and statistics about COVID-19, it’s the personal experiences that matter most.

Dr Muhammad Haniff Bin Abdullah
Haniff Abdullah care kit

Staff also receive WeCARE4U kits providing hygiene and safety items as well as a Mental Health Card with a QR code directing them to his team’s support hotline.

‘My proudest moment is when staff leave messages of thanks for everything we do on our hotline. It motivates all of us in the team to continue to make a difference. Our aim is to transition staff from acute phase interventions into more grounded ones that meet their needs and support them into a new ‘normal’ phase. We need to identify those that need longer-term care and gently slide them over into our pre-existing services.’

Haniff Abdullah news 2_wecare4u

Service for me means the ability to touch other peoples’ lives. The only way for us to grow is to give back.

Dr Muhammad Haniff Bin Abdullah

Haniff has also recently set up the International Association for Disaster Mental Health. The organisation brings together experts from different disciplines to address the global challenges of mental health in relation to disaster.

‘Studying War and Psychiatry at King’s really helped and moulded me to be who I am and what I do today,’ Haniff says. ‘King’s has helped me to lead, share best practice and contribute back to my society, my nation and the world.’

‘Service for me means the ability to touch other people’s lives. The personal interaction that develops throughout the process allows us to have meaning, purpose, connection and leave an impact on another person’s life.’

Read more #ContinuingToServe stories here.

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