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As Pandemic Continues, Advocates Expand Mental Health Resources For Healthcare Workers

Ambulance in front hospital
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the forefront the need for mental health resources for front line workers. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

*VPM News intern Alan Rodriguez Espinoza reported this story.

Around‌ ‌a‌ ‌month‌ ‌ago,‌ ‌Mary‌ ‌Kate‌ ‌Gibbons‌ ‌encountered‌ ‌her‌ ‌first‌ ‌coronavirus‌ ‌patient.‌ ‌Gibbons‌ ‌is‌ ‌a‌ ‌registered‌ ‌nurse‌ ‌at‌ ‌the‌ ‌VCU‌ ‌Health‌ ‌Community‌ ‌Memorial‌ ‌Hospital‌ ‌emergency‌ ‌department.‌ ‌

She‌ ‌says‌ ‌she’s‌ ‌so‌ ‌concerned‌ ‌for‌ ‌the‌ ‌health‌ ‌of‌ ‌others,‌ ‌she’s‌ ‌had‌ ‌a‌ ‌hard‌ ‌time‌ ‌focusing‌ ‌on‌ ‌her‌ ‌own‌ ‌mental‌ ‌health.‌ ‌One‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌hardest‌ ‌parts,‌ ‌she‌ ‌says,‌ ‌is‌ ‌not‌ ‌knowing‌ ‌when‌ ‌she’ll‌ ‌be‌ ‌able‌ ‌to‌ ‌see‌ ‌her‌ ‌loved‌ ‌ones‌ ‌again.‌ ‌

“I‌ ‌don't‌ ‌see‌ ‌my‌ ‌family‌ ‌because‌ ‌I‌ ‌want‌ ‌to‌ ‌protect‌ ‌them,”‌ ‌Gibbons‌ ‌said.‌ ‌“Knowing‌ ‌that‌ ‌it's‌ ‌going‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌a‌ ‌lot‌ ‌longer‌ ‌than‌ ‌most‌ ‌for‌ ‌me‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌able‌ ‌to‌ ‌see‌ ‌them‌ ‌is‌ ‌hard.”‌ ‌

She‌ ‌says‌ ‌the‌ ‌onset‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌pandemic‌ ‌brought‌ ‌about‌ ‌stress‌ ‌and‌ ‌anxiety.‌ ‌Mental‌ ‌health‌ ‌experts‌ ‌say‌ ‌these‌ ‌emotions‌ ‌are‌ ‌normal‌ ‌during‌ ‌times‌ ‌of‌ ‌crisis.‌ ‌VOCAL‌ ‌Virginia,‌ ‌an‌ ‌advocacy‌ ‌network‌ ‌that‌ ‌works‌ ‌with‌ ‌numerous‌ ‌mental‌ ‌health‌ ‌organizations,‌ ‌has‌ ‌compiled‌ ‌a‌ ‌‌ comprehensive‌ ‌list‌ ‌‌of‌ ‌coronavirus-related‌ ‌mental‌ ‌health‌ ‌services‌ ‌on‌ ‌their‌ ‌website.‌ ‌

“For‌ ‌a‌ ‌healthcare‌ ‌provider,‌ ‌a‌ ‌healer‌ ‌who‌ ‌has‌ ‌that‌ ‌compassion‌ ‌and‌ ‌empathy,‌ ‌it’s‌ ‌damaging‌ ‌because‌ ‌they’re‌ ‌not‌ ‌accustomed‌ ‌to‌ ‌dealing‌ ‌with‌ ‌these‌ ‌numbers‌ ‌of‌ ‌people‌ ‌not‌ ‌surviving,”‌ ‌said‌ ‌Elizabeth‌ ‌Bouldin-Clopton,‌ ‌a‌ ‌program‌ ‌director‌ ‌for‌ ‌VOCAL‌ ‌Virginia.‌ ‌

Bouldin-Clopton‌ ‌says‌ ‌the‌‌ ‌VOCAL‌ ‌Virginia‌ ‌website‌‌ ‌offers‌ ‌resources‌ ‌for‌ ‌veterans,‌ ‌LGBTQ‌ ‌and‌ ‌faith-based‌ ‌communities,‌ ‌among‌ ‌others.‌ ‌ ‌She‌ ‌also‌ ‌recommends‌ ‌that‌ ‌healthcare‌ ‌workers‌ ‌who‌ ‌are‌ ‌in‌ ‌distress‌ ‌reach‌ ‌out‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌ Mental‌ ‌Health‌ ‌America‌ ‌of‌ ‌Virginia‌‌ ‌“warmline”‌ ‌at‌ ‌1-866-400-6428‌ ‌--‌ ‌where‌ ‌they‌ ‌can‌ ‌talk‌ ‌to‌ ‌others‌ ‌who‌ ‌have‌ ‌lived‌ ‌similar‌ ‌experiences‌ ‌and‌ ‌can‌ ‌provide‌ ‌support.‌ ‌

‌The‌ ‌‌ National‌ ‌Alliance‌ ‌on‌ ‌Mental‌ ‌Illness‌ ‌‌helpline‌ ‌--‌ ‌1-800-950-6264‌ ‌--‌ ‌is‌ ‌another‌ ‌similar‌ ‌resource‌ ‌that‌ ‌Bouldin-Clopton‌ ‌says‌ ‌can‌ ‌help‌ ‌front‌ ‌line‌ ‌workers‌ ‌during‌ ‌this‌ ‌time.‌ ‌

“They’re‌ ‌very‌ ‌disconnected‌ ‌and‌ ‌all‌ ‌these‌ ‌resources‌ ‌that‌ ‌we‌ ‌talk‌ ‌about‌ ‌are‌ ‌ways‌ ‌for‌ ‌people‌ ‌to‌ ‌connect‌ ‌when‌ ‌they’re‌ ‌feeling‌ ‌overwhelmed,”‌ ‌Bouldin-Clopton‌ ‌said.‌ ‌

The‌ ‌Virginia‌ ‌Community‌ ‌Response‌ ‌Network‌ ‌is‌ ‌also‌ ‌offering‌ ‌‌ free‌ ‌mental‌ ‌health‌ ‌services‌ ‌to‌ ‌help‌ ‌healthcare‌ ‌providers.‌ ‌ ‌Rhonie‌ ‌Hale‌ ‌is‌ ‌one‌ ‌of‌ ‌almost‌ ‌50‌ ‌licensed‌ ‌therapists‌ ‌providing‌ ‌telehealth‌ ‌services‌ ‌free‌ ‌of‌ ‌charge.‌ ‌She‌ ‌says‌ ‌the‌ ‌treatment‌ ‌they’re‌ ‌using‌ ‌was‌ ‌created‌ ‌specifically‌ ‌to‌ ‌help‌ ‌people‌ ‌handle‌ ‌the‌ ‌emotional‌ ‌distress‌ ‌of‌ ‌COVID-19,‌ ‌and‌ ‌it‌ ‌teaches‌ ‌them‌ ‌how‌ ‌to‌ ‌use‌ ‌this‌ ‌protocol‌ ‌to‌ ‌help‌ ‌themselves‌ ‌later‌ ‌on.‌ ‌

“It‌ ‌helps.‌ ‌It‌ ‌really‌ ‌does‌ ‌help,”‌ ‌Hale‌ ‌said.‌ ‌“This‌ ‌is‌ ‌a‌ ‌difficult‌ ‌time‌ ‌and‌ ‌there‌ ‌is‌ ‌help‌ ‌available.‌ ‌You‌ ‌don’t‌ ‌have‌ ‌to‌ ‌go‌ ‌through‌ ‌this‌ ‌alone.”‌ ‌

These‌ ‌services‌ ‌are‌ ‌for‌ ‌doctors,‌ ‌nurses,‌ ‌first‌ ‌responders‌ ‌and‌ ‌other‌ ‌Virginia‌ ‌healthcare‌ ‌professionals‌ ‌--‌ ‌as‌ ‌well‌ ‌as‌ ‌their‌ ‌spouses,‌ ‌family‌ ‌members‌ ‌and‌ ‌significant‌ ‌others.‌ ‌

A‌ ‌month‌ ‌into‌ ‌treating‌ ‌coronavirus‌ ‌patients,‌ ‌Gibbons‌ ‌says‌ ‌she’s‌ ‌finally‌ ‌starting‌ ‌to‌ ‌come‌ ‌to‌ ‌terms‌ ‌with‌ ‌the‌ ‌tragic‌ ‌scope‌ ‌of‌ ‌this‌ ‌pandemic.‌ ‌She‌ ‌says‌ ‌public‌ ‌support‌ ‌has‌ ‌played‌ ‌a‌ ‌major‌ ‌part‌ ‌in‌ ‌boosting‌ ‌morale‌ ‌for‌ ‌her‌ ‌and‌ ‌her‌ ‌peers.‌ ‌ ‌

“Having‌ ‌that‌ ‌acknowledgment‌ ‌that‌ ‌what‌ ‌we're‌ ‌doing‌ ‌matters‌ ‌has‌ ‌made‌ ‌a‌ ‌huge‌ ‌difference,”‌ ‌she‌ ‌said.‌ ‌

Gibbons‌ ‌emphasizes‌ ‌the‌ ‌importance‌ ‌of‌ ‌staying‌ ‌hydrated,‌ ‌eating‌ ‌a‌ ‌balanced‌ ‌diet‌ ‌and‌ ‌exercising‌ ‌during‌ ‌these‌ ‌hard‌ ‌times.‌ ‌She‌ ‌praises‌ ‌the‌ ‌hard‌ ‌and‌ ‌selfless‌ ‌work‌ ‌of‌ ‌her‌ ‌fellow‌ ‌healthcare‌ ‌workers.‌ ‌For‌ ‌the‌ ‌rest‌ ‌of‌ ‌us,‌ ‌she‌ ‌has‌ ‌one‌ ‌simple‌ ‌message:‌ ‌“spread‌ ‌kindness,‌ ‌not‌ ‌germs.”‌ 

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