Help for Those Who Provide Care
Ray Smith
/ Categories: WELLNESS, 2023

Help for Those Who Provide Care

Mental health support for employees in need

Every day, nurses, physicians, and other healthcare workers are called upon to deal with some of life’s most difficult challenges. The hours are long, the risks to their health and safety are real, and they often forego meals, sleep, and time with family and friends, all in the quest to provide the best possible care to others. Given the daily pressures they face, it’s no wonder that many struggle with mental health concerns. For example, according to a recent survey of healthcare workers:

  • 93% of health care workers were experiencing stress
  • 86% reported experiencing anxiety
  • 77% reported frustration
  • 76% reported exhaustion and burnout
  • 75% said they were overwhelmed

For many, this compounding emotional burden leads to mental and physical exhaustion, trouble sleeping, and physical symptoms like loss of appetite and headaches. Perhaps most alarming of all is the fact that 55% of health care workers are questioning their career path.

This startling statistic highlights why now, more than ever, it's important for healthcare organizations to find ways to support their most valuable asset: their frontline staff.

Toward this end, Southwestern Vermont Health Care (SVHC) developed the nowYOU program to identify the specific support needs of employees and connect them to the appropriate resources. Introduced in 2019, the program emphasizes an ‘it’s okay to not be okay’ approach and provides support through three different channels: Peer Support, Chaplaincy, and Licensed Clinical Care.

Peer Support is provided by a team of SVHC staff members trained in individual and group crisis intervention. As employees of SVHC, Peer Support team members have a unique understanding of their peers' frustrations, anger, stressors, concerns, and even reactions. Thanks to the shared experience and training, Peer Supporters are able to help employees navigate difficult times and introduce options for dealing with the issues at hand.

The Chaplaincy portion of nowYOU is spearheaded by SVHC’s Care Chaplain Bill Ellwell, who is onsite to offer spiritual guidance and pastoral care to employees at the moment of crisis as well as in the days and weeks that follow.

If desired, employees can also tap resources outside of SVHC for support, including licensed mental health counselors. Thanks to a strong relationship with United Counseling Services, employees can access care quickly, even, in some cases, the same day. Another option specifically for Peer Supporters is Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP). Focusing on caring for horses rather than riding, EAP has been demonstrated to help with grief, depression, anxiety, and other issues. Thanks to the generous support of community members, EAP retreats are offered twice a year for trained Peer Supporters.

nowYOU also connects employees with clinicians trained in EMDR, a type of intervention developed to treat individuals after a recent traumatic event. While still an emerging technique, studies have shown that EMDR treatments significantly reduce traumatic stress and may foster resilience. For non-trauma related care, two licensed mental health clinicians are available onsite at SVHC for approximately 6 hours per week, again, providing timely access to care.

nowYOU is just one of the ways SVHC strives to bringing attention to the mental health needs of every employee and provide support in a manner that works for each individual. We encourage employees to consider their own needs using the same generous lens that they view their patients. To echo the theme of nowYOU, it’s okay to not be okay. Now let someone help.

If you or someone you know needs support now, call or text 988 or chat 988lifeline.org. 988 connects you with a trained crisis counselor who can help.


Paula Seaman, MSN, DA, RN, is the director of Quality, Safety, Value, and Education at SVHC.

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