In January of 2020 the COVID-19 virus was first discovered in the United States. A year later as the coronavirus pandemic rages on, essential workers – the helpers – are finding themselves also in need of help.
In response to the growing pandemic and the needs of essential and frontline workers, the Mental Health Recovery Board of Clark, Greene & Madison Counties (MHRB) established the Responder Resilience program.
The Responder Resilience Program connects anyone working in front-line occupations in Clark, Greene and Madison counties to consult with mental health professionals trained to treat trauma and trauma-related symptoms.
“The front-line workers have taken a lot of heat and as this goes on – we know it’s even more important to have quick access to help for the helpers,” says Dr. Greta Mayer, CEO of MHRB. “This program is available to frontline workers, mental and physical therapy staff, educators, law enforcement, fire and EMS workers.”
Mayer says the essential workers have exhibited a variety of needs from crisis care to “just trying to work through it all.”
“All of the essential workers … are people who went into the professions they’ve chosen because they have the gift of being helpers,” she says. “It’s often times hard for them to realize that they also need help. They are so used to being the provider … the mental health stigma gets in the way, but it’s okay to ask for help and need additional support.”
The Responder Resilience program offers a dedicated, licensed and credentialed person to quickly assess, prioritize and make a connection to find the best match, with providers on-hand to offer clinical work.
“The help that is received begins with the first phone call,” says Mayer.
Those who reach out are offered three free sessions with a professional care provider and assistance with navigating insurance coverage for continued care. Mayer says many people have chosen to continue with mental health care after the initial contact, and the program providers offer the benefit of telehealth or in person options.
“The providers are also enjoying the work,” Mayer says. “They feel it has been meaningful to them as therapists, to be part of the essential population – to be able to provide the support and care has been validating for them.”
Post-pandemic, MHRB hopes to continue the Responder Resilience program. Mayer says there will always be a need for essential workers to feel appreciated, supported and have practical help, and there is no shortage of traumatic events even when a pandemic is not erupting.
“A single incident isn’t necessarily traumatic for every person, so it may not be the pandemic per se … it may not be one thing in particular. It could be an accumulation of little things that put additional strain on people,” says Mayer. “(Reaching out) helps you, it helps your family, it helps your loved ones, it helps your work to be healthier.”
Mayer says the ability to connect people immediately when they are seeking help is the beauty of the Responder Resilience program. The MHRB pathway to clinical consultation is available by calling 937-727-4097, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“It really is hard to ask for help,” she says. “(Receiving help) increases the health and wellness of our community. It helps our families become healthier. It helps our workplaces become more positive. When people get the help they need as early as possible we can truly ward off a crisis later; we can ward off the bigger issues that can come from an unresolved issue.”
Dr. Jordan Allison, Clinical Psychologist with Mercy Health, says there has been a marked increase in the need for mental health care for front line workers since the onset of COVID-19.
“Of particular concern is recent data from the University of Utah suggesting more than half of doctors, nurses, and emergency responders involved in COVID-19 care could be at risk for mental health problems,” he says. “These problems include traumatic stress, depression, anxiety, alcohol abuse, and insomnia. Moreover, we know that even years after treating their final COVID-19 patient, the mental health effects will continue for many of our healthcare workers.”
Allison says medical providers need layers of support, and we must remember the people staffing our ICUs are capable, brave, and dedicated, but they are not Marvel superheroes.
“They are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons, and daughters. They are us,” he says. “They hurt, they cry, they worry, they break down, they grieve. Referring to them only as heroes reduces their humanity and limits their space to ask for help. They are heroes, but they are also humans. The challenge is the pervasive mental health stigma that keeps so many people – medical professionals included – from getting the help they need.”
Allison says Mercy Health is committed to the mental health of its staff and has a number of programs designed to offer support both internally and externally. On the internal side, for the first six months of the pandemic Mercy released daily video reflections with interviews from physical and mental health experts across the ministry.
“The series was called PAUSE, and as the name implies, was used to encourage staff to pause, reflect, and mentally reset,” says Allison. “Additionally, prior even to COVID-19, we made intentional changes in our policies to allow our medical providers to be reimbursed for burnout prevention and wellness programs.”
More recently, Allison says, Mercy Health initiated Caring 4 Colleagues, which is a 24/7 crisis line for medical providers and clinical staff. The line is staffed by Mercy’s own social workers, psychologists, and psychiatrists.
Externally, Mercy offers all employees eight free counseling sessions through a program called Life Matters, which pairs staff with licensed mental health providers in their area.
“We all benefit when we destigmatize mental health care,” Allison says. “The best way you can show support for a healthcare worker is to sincerely say ‘thank you.’”