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24/06/2024

The Nelson Mandela University Faculty of Health Sciences today (24 June) launched a short learning programme to enhance mental well-being. The basic course in Enhanced Preparedness Training (EPT) is designed to empower individuals with essential psychological coping skills.

The presenters are, from left, Nelson Mandela University Faculty of Health Sciences Director of the School of Behavioural and Lifestyle Sciences Prof Zoleka Soji, Faculty of Health Sciences Executive Dean, Professor Zukiswa Zingela, and Dean of Learning and Teaching Dr Phumeza Kota-Nyati

Faculty of Health Sciences Executive Dean, Professor Zukiswa Zingela, a psychiatrist with a PhD in psychology, developed the short learning programmes (SLPs) after research and planning on how to best support healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically in resource limited settings.

“It is designed to be short, sharp and useful so that in a few hours you can leave the session with enhanced coping skills,” says Prof Zukiswa Zingela.

“Central to the course is guiding workers through basic skills one can learn to manage one’s responses to stress from a state of anxiety or panic to a feeling of calmness and control.

“When we feel calm, we are able to manage our fears, thoughts, feelings, and behaviours, and we are better able to think logically about how to move forward and come up with solutions.”

Prof Zingela saw first-hand the anxiety, depression and burnout suffered by healthcare workers over this period. In response, she developed a training course that could be delivered at work over an hour to an hour and a half, at work, to support them.

The idea was based on psychological preparedness and focused on training healthcare workers to self-monitor and enhance their coping skills without removing them from their work environment. Key to the programme was the ability to access this kind of support during normal working hours because having a functional healthcare work force was critical to the country’s response to the pandemic.

Today, however, many individuals still feel overwhelmed and unable to cope with challenges in their workplace or general life challenges, and this comes with feelings of anxiety or depression.

Hence the course has now been adapted to meet the needs of working adults in any sector and renamed Enhanced Preparedness Training (EPT).

“We all carry anxieties and fears which may become more magnified when faced with challenges. It is also potentially within our control to manage these experiences or to seek help from someone who can help us achieve this and master our challenges,” she explains.

Prof Zingela emphasises that the programme is neither an attempt at self-therapy, nor a replacement for therapy: “it’s been designed to be used as a tool to self-empowerment.”

“During the EPT programme we share different, evidence-based cognitive and behavioural methods which are packaged with the appropriate mindfulness and relaxation techniques. Examples of techniques covered include guided imagery, mind-body feedback mechanisms and grounding techniques. Through these and other skills we provide training on, people learn how to manage and overcome anxiety that may be brought on by different life challenges that we all experience across the lifespan, with a special focus on the working adult.”

The multidisciplinary team presenting the SLPs with Prof Zingela includes psychologist Dr Phumeza Kota-Nyati, the University’s Dean of Learning and Teaching, and social worker Prof Zoleka Soji, the Director of the School of Behavioural and Lifestyle Sciences in the Faculty of Health Sciences.

It is delivered in three parts. The first is a mind-care session, drawing on cognitive behavioural therapy theories and focusing on thoughts and emotions, and how people behave when they interact with themselves and others, at work and at home. The second part includes a relaxation session with mindfulness guidance and relaxation techniques, and the third focusses on what participants can do to manage themselves and enhance the function of the team or their work environment.

“We aim to help you identify your coping skills, to recognise your strengths and to enhance them in a way that empowers you to deal with challenges,” says Prof Zingela.

“It includes a focus on skills that enhance your preparedness to cope with stressors, the ability to master basic relaxation and mindfulness techniques, and guidance on how you can enhance your coping skills, both as an individual and within a group.

“The group may be your team at work, your family at home or your circle of friends. It is up to you where you’d like to use the skills you’ll learn through the EPT.”

The programme is now accessible countrywide both face-to-face and online.

There are two different options: an eight-hour programme split over two days, open to all, and a 16-hour, three-day programme for professionals with a background in mental health experience, including those who work in the employee wellness sector and want to train as programme facilitators. The programme is already open for registration.

Further information from: Ms Rathani Nemuramba,  rathani.nemuramba@mandela.ac.za (041) 504 4679; digital prospectus: https://joom.ag/XEAd; self-help guide: https://zukizzept.org/