COVID-19 unit nurse sheds light on mental health resources for healthcare workers

Reach for Resilience is a statewide mental health resource for all North Dakota healthcare workers

FARGO, N.D. (KVRR) – After a year of helping patients fight COVID-19, medical professionals are dealing with health concerns of their own.

Mental health, that is.

“The first few weeks were terrifying,” recalls Sanford Health nurse Melanie Allen.

A year ago, Allen cared for the first COVID-19 patient at Sanford Health.

She has been a nurse for nearly 15 years, but part of what prepared her for working inside the COVID-19 unit wasn’t her medical experience.

“I’m shaking thinking about it now,” she said with trembling hands, remembering her time as a volunteer firefighter.

“That first time I walked into a live house burn and I felt the flames tickle my turnout gear. That fear I felt that day was probably the most real, right then and there experience of my life,” she recalled.

Memories from Allen’s five years of volunteering to fight fires is what gave her the mental strength she needed everyday to help patients battle the coronavirus in the ICU, she said. “I feel like that prepared me for what I walked into.”

“Every time you turned around, an alarm on one of those monitors was going off. Somebody wasn’t doing well, somebody needed to be intubated, there was a code, there was 12 hours of nonstop insanity,” Allen remembered. “The death and the destruction that we saw in human bodies from it, that’s going to leave a scar.”

Part of what’s helped Allen and other healthcare workers left with those mental scars is Reach For Resilience, a resource created by Sanford Health and the North Dakota Department of Human Services.

“What we say is [it’s] a program by healthcare workers for healthcare workers,” said Dr. Jon Ulven.

Dr. Ulven is a Sanford Health psychologist and the founder of Reach for Resilience. He says rates of depression for frontline workers have more than tripled during the pandemic.

“Very commonly, the people who are really close to the real challenging action — we see increased rates of PTSD, problems with anxiety symptoms, depression, difficulties with sleep,” he said.

For healthcare workers of any level in North Dakota wanting support, Reach for Resilience offers a helpline, as well as online self-help tools.

“For example, if I think I might be depressed and I’m a healthcare worker, here’s a way to screen yourself for depression, anxiety, trauma,” Dr. Ulven explained.

“I know I was okay, but I have the support and the family and the friends that I can reach out to when I’m not doing so great about things mentally. Does everybody have that? Do they have the ability to say, you know what, this is too much. I need help,” said Allen.

She and Dr. Ulven hope Reach for Resilience gets healthcare workers in need of mental health help one step closer to reaching out.

Reach for Resilience helpline: 701.365.4920.

Find more information about the program by clicking here.

Check out the Reach for Resilience Facebook page.

Categories: Coronavirus, Coronavirus-ND, Health, Local News, North Dakota News