A Tribute to My Colleagues and All Those Working in Mental Health

During a time when the world is focused on the current COVID-19 pandemic, a physical health crisis, and all those treating the physical symptoms of this pandemic, we must not forget those who are working to treat the mental health of our nation: the mental health workers. The force of mental health workers includes nurses, counselors, social workers, physicians, and others. These individuals may not be intubating, but ask if they are implementing life-saving tactics and administering life-saving medication and the answer will be a resounding yes. 

You may ask yourself what are these life-saving tactics and medications. The answer is greater than one could ever share in a short essay. The answer includes teaching coping skills, educating someone about their symptoms and how to recognize escalation of symptoms, building self-esteem and self-identity, prescribing and administering Methadone, Suboxone, Naltrexone, and a myriad of psychotropic medication. Implementation of any of these and more are occurring on any given day. 

Working in this field during this time has shown the true compassion of people and been a robust reminder of why I entered this field in the first place. Behind the walls of the rehab facility and hospital my colleagues are working tirelessly to treat individuals whose lives have been turned upside down not only by COVID-19, but also by addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders. 

While my colleagues may have their own anxieties and challenges during this time they come to work each day with an attitude of hope and provide support to the individual in front of them. They work with individuals to ensure that they know that they matter and that their work matters. My colleagues have endured schedule changes, changes in protocols and operations, changes in family dynamics, and yet coming to work each day you would never know what they are facing at home as they focus on the patient and what that individual needs. The dedication, commitment, and passion of the mental health workers is one that is indescribable. 

What we as a society must remember is that while these individuals, similar to our healthcare staff, come to work each day and do what is needed of them, when they go home the work doesn’t just stop. For many, the work continues at home taking care of their family. For others, the work lingers in their minds and even their body. An important phenomenon to be aware of particularly during this time is secondary trauma which occurs when an individual hears about or is exposed to another person’s trauma. In April, a New York ER physician completed suicide; this was described as related to her experience of secondary trauma. We must remember that as much as the world needs our mental health workers our mental health workers need the world. Services like those being offered at several facilities to provide support for staff and those on the front lines struggling are important and need to be recognized. I am proud to work for an agency that provides these services. 

Moreover, we must remember that COVID-19 will dissipate, a vaccine will one day be developed, but the effects of the pandemic on the mental health of families, individuals, and our frontline workers will remain. It will be the mental health workers who will be called upon to continue to provide services and support for the world. So I ask you please as you celebrate and thank all those helping remember to thank a mental health worker. 

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction or a mental health issue please call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Hotline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). This is a free, confidential hotline that provides treatment referrals and information service in both English and Spanish. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline can be reached at 1-800-273-82550 and provides free, confidential support to those struggling with suicidal thoughts and/or emotional distress. Don’t give up; there’s a reason that you are here today even if you don’t know it yet. 

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