Coronavirus News: NY clinic offers free virtual group therapy to healthcare workers for COVID-related PTSD

Mindful Urgent Care, the first and only New York-based clinics providing same day in-network mental health and addiction care, is offering free virtual group therapy to COVID-19 healthcare workers to help prevent Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

The new group therapy initiative, as part of the MindFit program, will be strictly limited to healthcare workers affected by COVID-19 to help protect their mental health.

The diagnosis of PTSD is preceded by a diagnosis called Acute Stress Disorder.

Currently, 100% of MUC's new patients cite COVID-19 as exacerbating their mental health symptoms and meet either some or all of the criteria for Acute Stress Disorder or Adjustment Disorder -- a severe difficulty in coping with a major life change or disrupting event.

Many patients that work in healthcare -- doctors, nurses, physician assistants, medics, EMS personnel, and pharmacists -- have presented to MUC's clinics with these preliminary symptoms.

MUC has seen a 24% increase in visits since the coronavirus crisis began, with many patients requesting an increase in the frequency of their visits.

MUC recently increased its team of providers and clinicians, extended business hours, and increased telehealth video conferencing time slots and capabilities.

Anesthesiologist Roy Berenholtz is encouraging his fellow healthcare workers to participate in the program.

He has been working 12 to 24-hour days during the pandemic and said some days have been overwhelming.

"I spoke to a lot of my colleagues. Many people are either afraid to admit that they have this psychological burden or stress or maybe they're not aware of it," he said.

Berenholtz was a military medic and said in many ways treating coronavirus patients in hospitals here is more difficult than war.

"Where in the military you had 10-15 casualties at once, here we have hundreds of patients at once," he said.

Mordechai Sacks, a primary care physician assistant and director of the Catskills/Lower Hudson Valley district for the New York State Society of Physician Assistants, said he worries about the mental and emotional toll the pandemic is taking on his colleagues.

"For healthcare providers this is our 9/11. This is our war in Afghanistan or Iraq," he said. "We're not focused on our mental health. We're just trying to get through the days so that we can take care of our patients."

Sacks said doctors and nurses who may be used to losing one or two patients a month are now losing two or three patients every day.

On Sunday the medical director for the emergency department at New York-Presbyterian Allen Hospital, Dr. Lorna Breen, died by suicide. Her family says she had no known history of mental illness.

Dr. Amalea Seelig, who is spearheading the MindFit program, said Breen's death highlights the need for this type of group therapy program for healthcare workers.

She said many healthcare workers are fearful of admitting they are struggling with depression and anxiety.

"They're afraid of what it says about who they are or what their position might be or they're licensure," she said.

Seelig said health care workers may ignore the signs of mental health issues like trouble sleeping and agitation.

"They don't recognize that those symptoms are actually mental health symptoms and that they could be supported," she said.

Seelig said the free group therapy sessions will be led by a mental health professional and will be offered in a Zoom format with a maximum number of 10 participants per session.

"They don't have to say who they are, they don't have to come on the screen, they don't even have to use their name," she said. "I'm asking you to please care for yourself first. Give the kind of care to yourself that you give to your patients."

Those diagnosed with PTSD experience high rates of suicidal behavior and suicide.

If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide or are worried about a friend or loved one help is available. Call the National Suicide Prevention Line at 1-800-273-8255.

CLICK HERE for more information on the free virtual therapy program.

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