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March 12, 2021 ● 3.5 min read

By Emily Bradfield

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Throughout the past year, the pandemic has undeniably left a mental health crisis in its wake. The reality that anxiety, depression, loneliness and substance abuse are on the rise is likely not a new idea to you, but have you considered the impact on behavioral health workers themselves as they respond to this crisis?

Behavioral health workers face a unique challenge during the COVID-19 pandemicThey must not only deal with the increased strain on the behavioral healthcare system due to widespread mental health fallout as a result of COVID-19 (in June of 202040.9% of CDC survey respondents reported at least one adverse mental or behavioral condition), but also must handle their own mental health struggles due to increased workload and their personal struggles and fears about the pandemic.

Recently, I sat down with Mary-Kay Lamb, Vice President of Case Management at River Valley Behavioral Health (RVBH), to gain insights into what it has been like in the behavioral healthcare space during the pandemic. River Valley is a provider of community behavioral health services in Owensboro, KY. They also provide assistance for developmental and intellectual disabilities, addiction prevention and recovery, and operate a 24/7 crisis line. RVBH partners with Heroes Health to provide mental wellness support to their workforce.

 “Overall, there is a heightened ‘unpredictability’ of what services will be needed, what services will be accessed, and the modality in which the delivery of those services needs to happen,” Lamb noted. According to Lamb, “There has been an increase in the number of calls to our 24/7 crisis line from youth and adults in a Mental Health Crisis. Call volumes have increased by almost 400% since March of 2020.”

 The unpredictability and increase in volume have placed a massive strain on behavioral healthcare workers. “Workers are generally tired; they are fearful of having so many residential clients so close in proximity and are overwhelmed at the increase in problem areas with their clients. In substance abuse disorder services, we are seeing an increase in overdoses and the inability to work as closely with clients is sometimes leaving the clinicians with feelings of lack of control. Clinicians providing outpatient therapy are more isolated being at home and have perceived less support systems that they are comfortable reaching out to for help.” 

In order to better support behavioral healthcare workers who do so much to support others during the COVID-19 pandemic, Heroes Health has partnered with RVBH to offer mental health resources to their workforce. Speaking about the positive effects of Heroes Health, Lamb stated: “Employees have provided feedback that the implementation and use of Heroes Health provides them a sense that we are concerned about their Mental Health and wellbeing. Those who have received ‘outreach’ calls are appreciative that someone is looking out for them.” 

Despite the challenges, Lamb did note one silver lining as a result of the pandemic — the increase in telehealth services. Although some patients may prefer in-person care, the transition to virtual services has allowed others who may not have been able to receive in-person care due to transportation barriers to access services. According to Lamb, “Outpatient therapy has been very successful in engaging clients for therapy services, by telehealth and telephonic. Several days per week, there is an 85% show rate for services.” In comparison, there was a 70% daily show rate for outpatient face-to-face services prior to the pandemic and the implementation of telehealth/telephonic services at RVBHThe transition to virtual services may be used even beyond the pandemic to reach populations who have trouble accessing in-person behavioral healthcare.

We are only beginning to see the long-term mental health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and many experts believe that it will stretch far into the future. Behavioral health workers may be especially vulnerable to long-term mental and emotional struggles due to their increased roles during the pandemic. Do you know someone in the behavioral health sphere? Reach out and send some encouragement their way. 

Additionally, if you are currently experiencing mental health strain, consider using the Heroes Health app as part of your wellbeing support plan. Heroes Health thanks all of our nation’s healthcare workers for their contributions to fighting the COVID-19 pandemic! 

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