MedQuarter's Commitment to Community Mental Health

Dec 15, 2020

How often have you heard the phrase ‘COVID fatigue’ in the last couple of weeks? Yes, it’s a thing.

As Iowa, and the nation, grapple with surging COVID-19 infections and people are drawn back into quarantine, there is another crisis brewing. One that is being talked about, but which is not nearly as measurable as the infection rate is our respective and collective mental health.

In 2019, Iowa Healthiest State partnered with Make It OK to reduce the stigma of mental illness by starting conversations and increasing understanding about mental illness. Recently, Make It OK – Linn County partnered with the MedQuarter Regional Medical District’s Faith & Medicine Task Force to conduct the ‘Mid-Week Series’ of virtual presentations in September, October and November. Each of the three sessions focused on a different aspect of the challenges of mental health including Mental Health and the World We Live in Today, Stop the Silence; Stop the Stigma, and Medical, Psychological, and Spiritual First Aid.

The subject matter, presenters and insights at each session were very well received with nearly 100 participants per session. Most encouraging and cathartic to many were the comments in the Zoom chat by participants throughout the presentations. There were expressions of gratitude for openly addressing feelings that individuals were experiencing but feeling alone with in their thoughts; appreciation for presenters sharing their stories and being vulnerable in providing insights; expressions of guilt for not being able to help others after the derecho; and fatigue and grief from the overwhelming loss of normalcy caused by the pandemic.

During the Economic Alliance’s ‘Business Best Practices – COVID-19’ webinar on November 18th, a group of area employers shared what their organizations were doing in response to the pandemic. Comments ranged from work at home accommodations, closure to outside visitors, structured testing procedures, and other topics which were fairly universally accepted. The topic they were most challenged with was the mental health of their employees and what they, as employers, could do to help. Concerns were expressed on how the cumulative impact of COVID-19, working from home, school closures, economic hardships and other issues, would affect their employees. The need for mental health services is evident, but not readily embraced or available, and in some instances, even mental health providers are suffering from the same impacts of fatigue.

Foundation 2, a local provider of mental health counseling services and support for their Crisis Line and Your Life Iowa call-in crisis services in Cedar Rapids, shared that they have received more than 5,670 calls from Linn County residents from January to November of 2020. April’s year over year increase alone, from 2019 to 2020, was 17%. Calls ranged from mental health concerns, concerns for family members, and 13% of those calls discussed coronavirus concerns. Emily Blomme, CEO of Foundation 2 says, “We have been asked to do several virtual presentations to Linn County businesses who are seeing their own employees struggling. We’re grateful they’re reaching out and allowing us to share signs and symptoms of suicide, self-care activities, mindfulness practices and ways leaders can support their employees. Actual data on who is struggling, or how much, is challenging to obtain. We’ve seen even our own staff who are providing these important services, struggle with their own mental health. And to drill it down even further, as a small business leader in the community, I’ve struggled personally right alongside my senior leaders. We look forward to finding ways to support our staff but at times still struggle with it (and we’re the experts!) Stigma can easily prevent someone from acknowledging that the reason they are absent from work is mental health related. However, some businesses have been forthcoming with employees sharing their mental health struggles. In addition, some employers are putting up different parameters around work flexibility at home which allows people with chronic, severe or even new mental health issues working without anyone knowing their struggles.”

Blomme also shared that the CDC reported that beginning in April 2020, the proportion of children’s mental health related emergency room visits among all pediatric emergency room visits increased and remained elevated through October. Compared with 2019, the proportion of mental health related visits from children aged 5-11 increased by 24% and from 12-17 increased by 31%. This is an example of what is happening in people’s homes; many parents of these children are working either at home or in the workplace, and their mental health is greatly impacted by that of their children, and a changed working environment.

There is hope, with vaccines in sight, and technological advancements to help in coping with the pandemic. It will take time and resources, however, to help those dealing with mental health challenges now and in the future. Playing an active role in supporting local community resources is a great place for businesses to start. By opening the door to conversations, business leaders and human resources professionals can provide a welcomed impact in the workplace. To check out more mental health resources for workplaces, visit www.cedarrapids.org/coronavirus or www,makeitok.org/iowa. For support, visitwww.yourlifeiowa.org or for information call 1-855-581-8111 (chat and text). Register for the upcoming ‘Mental Health in the Workplace’ Webinar on December 16 and other events at www.themedq.com/events.




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