Mental Health – October 1 2022

"Caring for the caregiver" programme supports the mental health of care professionals

One of the challenges of being a caregiver is not to forget that we also need to take care of ourselves. 

Under this premise, the “Caring for the Caregiver” programme at SOS Children's Villages in Chile protects the mental health of caregivers who, due to the complexity of their work, may experience symptoms of stress and emotional fatigue. 

Based on an alliance with the Chilean Safety Association (ACHS), the programme focuses on prevention, care, and support for the mental health of employees, says Paola González, head of risk prevention and emergency management at SOS Childrens Villages in Chile.

Caregivers and support staff have access to psychological assistance by telephone, available 24 hours a day. This support immediately mitigates the emotional impact that workers may have in the event of a critical situation. 

Guillermina Araneda (68) has been a caregiver at SOS Children’s Village Concepción in southern Chile for almost 40 years. She says the “Caring for the Caregiver” programme has greatly helped her and her fellow caregivers to manage the challenges of their work with children. She recalls some of the group sessions where care professionals discussed their mental well-being.

"We talked and we expressed our feelings. We told each other about the situations we experience day by day in our work. I would like this (programme) to grow more and more; getting together to talk helps a lot, you feel more supported," says Guillermina.

The programme not only offers psychological support, but also teaches methods to deal with situations and stress.

"One can have better tools, for example, to react better when a child is upset, not to collapse with emotions,” says Guillermina. “Releasing our emotions will be good for us to feel better as people and in our work.”

Osvaldo Salazar, National Director of SOS Children's Villages in Chile, says the strategic alliance with ACHS is of great help in generating protective and safe environments for children and young people, as well as staff. "The programme has two intervention focuses: one is reactive, through a crisis intervention unit, and the other is preventive, including talks, workshops and self-care spaces so that each staff member has the tools to face eventual complex scenarios.”

Paulina Rojo, the pedagogical and administrative coordinator of the SOS Children’s Villages in Concepción, Chile, says the fact that caregivers can share their experiences is "very valuable” for them to “release emotions”. “We hope that the programme continues to grow in order to support the mental health of the staff," she says. 

This year, the World Health Organization (WHO) recognized "burnout" syndrome as an occupational disease, a pathology linked to the emotional exhaustion of people due to high levels of stress in their jobs. 

SOS Children's Villages in Chile is the first organization providing direct care to children and adolescents that is part of the initiative in the country. "Hopefully, this will have a positive impact on our staff and consequently further improve the caregivers relationship with the children. We would love other organizations that share our reality to join this type of initiative," adds Paola González, the head of risk prevention. 

Text by Mónica García Zea