Medical staff, first responders and frontline workers quickly became the heroes of the coronavirus pandemic. While caring for patients with COVID-19 and providing necessary services in the community, many essential workers have experienced mental health challenges.
“During this time, our typical self-care activities have been impacted, we can no longer de-stress at the gym, movie theatre, or on a night out with loved ones,” Jackie Crane, LMHC, program supervisor for the mobile Transitional Support Team, Crisis Services, said. “For many, hours are longer and the crisis does not end with our shift, as this pandemic carries into our personal lives as well.”
Local mental health providers recognized the needs of this specific population and have stepped up to provide assistance.
Jewish Family Service of Buffalo & Erie County (JFS) recently received a $75,000 grant from the Western New York COVID-19 Community Response Fund, to provide free and confidential telemedicine health services and other resources to people on the frontlines of the pandemic.
“On the healthcare front, these workers may be having traumatic experiences and experiencing burn out,” Jennifer Levesque, MA, LMHC, director of clinical services, JFS. “They may be reluctant to reach out for help because they think they should be taking care of their patients rather than themselves.
“Medical and essential workers may be facing financial stresses, depression or PTSD,” Levesque said. “We are flexible with delivering services through telemedicine and working with their busy schedules.”
According to Crane, essential workers are experiencing similar mental health challenges that everyone is facing during this time – heightened anxiety, grief, depression, and trauma. In light of the pandemic, our worlds very rapidly shifted in terms of how we are working and the extra precautions being used during our day in order to remain safe.
“Responding to others who are in a crisis, while we ourselves are also learning how to cope, can place an extra emotional toll on frontline workers,” Crane said.
Stigma prevents people from asking for help and those who are in the medical field may be hesitant to reach out for help due to more limited options in terms of maintaining privacy.
“Typically, those who work in the field are not going to go to a community based agency where colleagues work; and this makes options more difficult to come by. Private practitioners may have lengthy waiting lists even after someone has reached out for help.
In addition to JFS, other community initiatives are offering free services to first responders, both individual sessions and through support groups. Another free resource that many employers have is their EAP provider.
Crane notes that there are a lot of people experiencing heightened anxiety and depression right now, so there may be some dismissing of these emotions or thoughts that “everyone is experiencing this so I shouldn’t need any extra support.”
“As we know, it is important to put on your oxygen mask before helping others, so pay attention to your emotions and seek help if needed,” Crane said.
Essential workers seeking support are encouraged to call JFS at 716-883-1914 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to set up individualized counseling plans.
Mental Health Advocates offers a resource guide.