The Pittsburgh Foundation

Themes Heard from Mental Health Providers

During a community call held on May 8, 2020, we asked partners to share their concerns, solutions and needs around mental health in the community related to COVID-19. The themes and needs are shared below.

Leaders are concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on their staffs, especially those with existing mental health concerns, and about the ability of staff to handle the mental health impact on clients.

“I’m worried that staff might be reaching their breaking points. They have been entrenched for so long, at such high speed. We’re getting such a volume of calls and asks, and they’re handling really hard phone calls. It weighs on the staff, carrying those burdens on behalf of others.”

Leaders are having difficulty gauging stress levels of their staff due to the remote work set-up.

“My greatest concern is that I’m not seeing the magnitude of their stress, because of Zoom meetings, it’s hard to know. There’s so much work to do, it’s hard to pause and really check in.”

Organizations are feeling stressed about the uncertainties about returning to work, and how to adjust processes and workflows to make sure staff and clients are safe. 

“If we move to the yellow phase and start these [child care] visits again, how do we screen children, make sure that they are not sick, and keep staff safe, as well. Social distancing with children is virtually impossible… When the kids do come back for the child care part, they need hugs. Do parents even want to bring their children back? Trying to figure out how to explain these issues and keep the center safe for everyone.”

Organizational leaders are struggling to manage their own stress and anxiety while supporting others.

“As a leader I’m having some really stressful moments, but I don’t want to stress anyone else out. (I’m) trying to be as calm as possible, and that’s really hard too.” 

Organizations are facing an increased need for services that they are not sure they can meet.

“We’re getting calls from families and needing to provide critical COVID-related needs like food, baby food, people needing support because their landlord is threatening to evict them. (There is) so much uncertainty and so many emergency and critical needs they are calling us for.” 

Organizations expressed concern about an increase in domestic violence.

“We’re receiving many more crisis calls, with increases in anxiety, depression and suicidality expression… but we can’t provide the hand- on contact we used to be able to provide. Home behaviors and situations are escalating quickly. It’s like people are having to live in a cage…”

Ways that Organizations are Supporting Their Staff

Checking-in with staff more frequently.

“At the beginning of staff meetings, we ask ‘what’s something you’re concerned about and something you’re grateful for, something you’re looking forward to.’”

Scheduled time for fun, games or relaxing.

“We have a team meeting every Friday at 2 p.m. It’s not work-related. It’s focused on self-care, or a funny video. Last week we did a virtual escape room together. It’s one break in the week. You need to schedule in some time for that. We end with everyone sharing one win from the week.”

Creating spaces for reflection or education.

“(We) altered the structure of the day to allow for more professional development, reflection and planning for staff.”

Tapping into clinical teams or partners to provide professional support.

“Managers are being available for staff. You cannot pour from an empty pitcher. Trauma therapists are providing guided meditation every other week for staff and individuals impacted. They also provide virtual support groups for grief, meditation, wellness and parenting.”  

Providing additional resources to staff, including hazard pay,  PPE for families of staff, and encouraging staff to use the existing Employee Assistance Program.

“Staff qualifies for EAP, which provides helpful resources allowing them to deal with some of the challenges that they are experiencing.”   

Ways Organizations are Being Responsive to the People they Serve

Addressing areas that their communities can control.

“There are so many things that we cannot control, so we’re trying to control the things we can. We are working with attorneys… who can help clients with legal issues that are causing them stress.”  

Youth-focused programs are supporting parents.

“We are sharing helpful resources with parents on activities that they can do with kids. We hosted a call with all of the parents. They were excited to see each other and the kids joined. Parents were able to share any challenges that they are having with their children. (We’re also) sending them information from partners about wellness.”

Supporting providers.

“(We are) having weekly provider meetings. These providers are sharing a lot of concerns about their ability to serve youth during this time. We make sure that our staff is accessible for any concerns from providers.”

Recommendations for Supporting Efforts to Address Mental Health

  • Providing operational dollars so that organizations may be flexible in responding to needs as they arise and may provide mental health and other supports for staff, such as stipends for cell phone and utility bills for those working from home.
  • Increasing participation in Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) especially for smaller organizations and exploring blended funding of EAPs to support multiple organizations.
  • Ensuring that mental health resources are culturally relevant: Providing counseling for staff, online yoga sessions, or group sessions focused on stress, and ensuring those activities are culturally relevant.
  • Sharing best practices and tips for managers: Hands-on, practical tips about what other managers have tried to implement or identifying helpful speakers for staff.
  • Offering raining for managers: “I want training. People are going to feel scared and are going to have culture shock. I want to be able to deal with the next transition.”