‘We’re often required to put in extra time’: Mental health workers stressed by pandemic too

Mental health professionals at Arbor Circle and Forest Hill Hospital say they’re feeling the impact of the pandemic as they care for others.
Posted at 6:02 PM, Nov 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-20 18:09:19-05

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Jennifer Shalhoup believes the pandemic has been challenging for everyone. She’s the assistant director of nursing at Forest View Hospital, a psychiatric facility, and she said everyone’s mental health has been affected in some way.

“A lot of us are struggling with mental illness right now with this pandemic, with the depression, isolation, the anxiety, the fears,” Shalhoup said during a Zoom interview with Fox 17 on Friday morning. “We are seeing an increase need for services. So, we’re often being required to put in some extra time, treat extra people, pick up some extra hours.”

The team at Forest View is dedicated to their patients, but the workload can be overwhelming, she said. Their facility provides both outpatient and in-patient care, and a partial day service where patients can meet with a social workers and psychiatrists. However, workflow has been different since the pandemic hit in March.

“We rely very much on that face-to-face contact with patients and we’re all wearing masks,” Shalhoup said. “Even just wearing a mask, it makes it a little bit more challenging to get that rapport and that connection with your patients and build that trust.”

Trust is key, said Kristin Gietzen of Arbor Circle. She’s president and CEO of the mental health counseling and substance use treatment facility. The therapists and other team members there have shifted to tele-health and they’re more concerned for their patients.

“They worry about their clients,” Gietzen said during an interview with FOX 17 last week. “They worry about what they’re not seeing and that they’re going to miss something, that they’re going to miss the body language or some kind of affect that someone might have that in person they know how to read that.”

Additionally, many of the staff members are married with children or have aging parents that they’re concerned about as well, she said. Some have even been personally impacted by the virus.

“We have staff that have lost family members during this time,” Gietzen said. “We have staff whose parents are living in long-term care facilities that they can’t see. So, it’s all the worries that everyone’s dealing with right now, it’s just kind of layered on top of trying to help others.”

Gietzen recommends to her staff that they pay attention to their feelings and their bodies, and to respond positively. She said it’s important that they practice the message they preach of mental wellness. And, they have.

“Our staff are just awesome and they use each other for support,” Gietzen said. “They have just dug into the situation, rolled their sleeves up and, you know, not a complaint from the whole field.”

Shalhoup said they too encourage their staff to practice self-care by taking breaks during their shifts, going for a walk around the building, and taking time to relax and decompress. And similar to the folks at Arbor Circle, the staff is always focused on the well-being of their patients.

“Our local hospitals are working tirelessly to take care of those patients who are medically-compromised,” Shalhoup said. “We want the community to know that we are here to help treat their mental health needs. We encourage people to seek help, seek treatment. Don’t wait. Come. Give us a call.”

***For help call Forest View at (800) 949-8439 and Arbor Circle at 616-456-6571***