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April 13, 2021 ● 3.5 min read

By Shivam Bhargava

Have you been working on the front lines of COVID-19 as a healthcare worker, and are struggling immensely with your mental health? You want to talk to a professional about it, but don’t have the money or time to make it happen? The Emotional PPE Project has solutions to all those questions and more.

It all started with a simple conversation between two neighbors and friends. Dr. Dan Saddawi-Konefka, the anesthesia residency program director at Massachusetts General Hospital, and Dr. Ariel Brown, a medical scientist, were texting early on in the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ariel asked Dan what she could do to help and from there, the Emotional PPE Project was created. The Emotional PPE Project connects healthcare workers in need with licensed mental health professionals who can help at no cost. It is a directory that provides contact information of volunteer mental health practitioners to healthcare workers whose well being has been impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. Founded in April 2020, the Emotional PPE Project is now a 501(c)3 nonprofit charity and has been recognized by renowned media outlets such as the Boston Globe, NPR, and the Today Show. Since its birth, the Emotional PPE Project has been able to grow from 67 therapists to over 600 mental health practitioners across all 50 states. In addition, they have been able to serve over 600 healthcare workers in need of mental healthcare. 

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the barriers that healthcare workers face when trying to access mental health has been exacerbated. Many healthcare workers are uninsured or underinsured, particularly for mental health care. By connecting mental health practitioners to healthcare workers who are willing to provide their services pro bono, the Emotional PPE Project is breaking down financial barriers for healthcare workers. In addition, finding a therapist that has space in their practice, that takes their insurance, and whose availability matches the availability of the healthcare worker takes an enormous amount of time. Working on the frontlines makes it difficult to seek out resources, but initiatives like the Emotional PPE Project streamlines the process to make it easier for healthcare workers to find help when needed. 

Another barrier to mental healthcare for healthcare workers that is often overlooked is the stigma behind seeking help. Healthcare workers often report feeling that others will see them as weak or incapable of doing their job if they admit to asking for help with their emotional state. Healthcare workers are often more focused on taking care of others, rather than themselves. This culture has been intensified throughout the pandemic as healthcare workers have been overworked on the frontlines. The Emotional PPE Project breaks down this stigma by making mental healthcare more accessible without having to go through a plethora of people to get necessary help. 

While healthcare workers are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, mental healthcare accessibility does not stop here. Based on previous crises such  9/11, Ebola, and AIDS, we know that front line responders ask for help at increasing rates months after the crisis occurs. Readjusting to normalcy requires an immense amount of mental strength and fortitude from healthcare workers, and they deserve the proper help to guide them through these future challenges. The Emotional PPE Project is committed to providing help for healthcare workers who have been traumatized by these events, even after COVID-19 ceases to be a pandemic.

As the Emotional PPE Project continues to grow, they urge any healthcare worker or mental health practitioner to use their services. If you are in a healthcare-related job and have been affected by the COVID-19 crisis, you are welcome to contact their practitioners in their comprehensive directory. If you are interested in volunteering and are a licensed mental health practitioner in at least one US state or territory, you may sign up at the practitioner sign up page. The Emotional PPE Project does not collect any personal data and is committed to protecting the privacy of healthcare workers in need. 

Healthcare workers deserve more accessibility to proper mental healthcare, and the barriers they face need to be broken as they start to adjust to life after the pandemic. Heroes Health would like to thank the Emotional PPE Project team for all the important work they have done and would like to continue to encourage healthcare workers to take care of themselves even as this pandemic starts to subside.

 

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