The staff of West Bergen Mental Health in Ridgewood is taking the temperature of our community’s mental health and setting the bar high in terms of awareness and care.
“Recognition of mental health is a big part of the story,” says CEO Michael Tozzoli.
This is true. As America pulls through the COVID crisis, the needs for mental health treatments and awareness are apparent and demand for services is at historic levels.
“Our role is not just with clients, but with the entire community,” says Michael. This was apparent when West Bergen Mental Health kicked off their COVID “warmline,” similar to a traditional “hotline.”
“At the beginning, our warmline focused on front-line workers and first-responders,” says Michael. “We then began addressing teachers and educators who were dealing with their own stress throughout the pandemic, and now we offer this free service to the entire community. The initial conversation with a caller may include tips for next steps and suggestions for treatment. This was a major initiative that we launched very quickly at the onset of COVID.”
“We understood the issues of COVID would escalate and would need to be mitigated quickly,” says Development Director, Barbara Hand.
Currently, all of West Bergen’s services are handled through teletherapy; a new process that needed to be explored when COVID broke out. “We turned the agency around in four days to manage our clients through teletherapy,” says Michael. “We didn’t have a choice, and we pivoted rapidly. I’m proud of our staff.”
Therapists work one-on-one with clients and report back to a team of professionals at West Bergen who offer advice, support, and varying perspectives. “Our coordination of care is tight and efficient,” says Michael. “It’s the intersection of the heart and the mind—right on the axis between those two.”
“We offer a very holistic treatment plan,” adds Barbara. “We can provide any type of service, including medications, if appropriate, through our psychiatrists. We assess each client and figure out what’s best.”
Program fees are built on a sliding scale so that they are affordable to everyone. “We consider our clients’ financial and insurance issues,” says Michael. “Our therapists have no idea how much the clients are paying, which is the way it should be.”
The organization’s grief programs have seen an uptick since the pandemic. Grief counseling encompasses death and the loss of loved ones, but there are other facets including relationship loss, job loss, under-employment, and financial strain. It can affect individuals who are missing their day-to-day connections, like being unable to visit family members.
To address these challenges, the organization introduced free community outreach programs via Zoom. By partnering with schools, Valley Hospital, libraries, and churches, the organization presented workshops to sharing tips and strategies to manage anxiety, balance work-life-home-school issues, and dealing with stress and heightened emotions during these challenging times.
1. Keep a schedule. Even if you are working from home, create a “to-do” list with items to accomplish throughout the day. Structure and accountability help keep us emotionally stable.
2. Limited news intake. Constantly listening to unsettling news causes negative chemicals to fire.
3. Have the TV on in the background to give you a sense of not being alone. Choose any channel except news! Consider what’s going on in your background and keep it positive.
4. Socially connect as best you can through Zoom. Walk with a neighbor. Make “check-in” phone calls each week with friends and relatives.
5. Create a family “idea board.” Add activities you can do together or individually. It may be as simple as taking a ride, but it’s good to change your scenery, even if it’s a cold-weather trip to the beach for a walk.
6. Go around the table, and discuss the highs of the week, lows of the week, and one thing you are grateful for. This provides a bit of insight for your kids and creates those connections.
We are here for any life situation, any age, any generation…you name it, we handle it,” says Michael.